DENVER (CBS4)– Federal safety officials have awarded a former railroad worker nearly $150,000 after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad retaliated against the employee for reporting safety issues with the railroad tracks in Denver.
Railroad tracks are the second-leading cause of railway accidents after human error.
Inspectors ride the rails daily looking for track problems, but the man at the middle of the settlement, Brandon Fresque, was fired after he says the railroad tried to cover up the safety issues.
Freight trains filled with flammable cargo can also turn into rolling bombs in a derailment.
Fresque’s job was to find track defects for BNSF until he was fired last year after a meeting with a supervisor.
“He told me to falsify the report. And within three hours later a confrontation happened and I was removed from service and later fired,” said Fresque.
He says keeping the trains moving can affect a supervisor’s pay. Taking tracks out of service or slowing trains can cause delays.
But BNSF insisted in a statement to CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger, “…unequivocally that safety is the most important thing we do.”
The railroad said it inspects their busiest tracks daily, using high-tech equipment and will replace 600 miles of track this year.
But Fresque’s attorney Nick Thompson insists the railroad has reason to discourage employees from reporting safety issues.
“They are not in the business of taking tracks out of service, so the longer they can delay that, the more trains they can run and the more money they can make,” said Thompson.
Train derailments can be extremely dangerous. One derailment occurred in West Virginia on CSX tracks two years ago, due to a track defect.
“Their whole goal is move trains, move trains, that’s the only way they are going to make money,” said Fresque.