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Quick action by SMART-TD LR leads to federal violations for chemical leak at Union Pacific’s Salem Yard

CHICAGO (November 29)—It was Halloween night and SMART-TD Legislative Representative David Auker (Local #979) was working a remote switching job at Union Pacific’s Salem, Ill. yard. Towards the end of his shift he was hit with an odor that burned his lungs.

Fearing that there could be something wrong, and after job briefing with his brakeman, Brother Auker and the crew proceeded to take their engine to a different location and contacted local UP management.

Brother Auker was then directed to look up in the computer what cars were located in the area of the yard where he experienced the problems. It was determined that 3 placarded cars in a row were present in that area of the yard and a UP Haz Mat specialist was contacted.

Auker’s crew was ordered to tie up and go home and that the local fire department was being dispatched to investigate.

But to Auker’s surprise, the crew on duty right after him went on duty and was ordered to proceed with switching, even after those crew members experienced the same odor that Aukers’ crew experienced. That’s when Auker decided to detail everything he could and report it to SMART-TD Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy.

“I was pretty stunned when I got Brother Auker’s report,” Guy said. “For the UP to send one crew home due to a potential haz mat situation, only to have the next crew resume that work, it sounded very questionable to me.”

“That next crew, even after reporting the same conditions as the previous crew, was ordered to work in the questionable area,” Guy said. “So I decided to have FRA investigate to determine what happened and to be sure UP didn’t violate any regulation in requiring the crew to continue working.”

FRA Region VI handled the investigation, and in an email to Director Guy on November 29, 2017 FRA’s Hazmat specialist wrote “I investigated the incident and all the circumstances and events surrounding the release and found no violation of the Federal Hazardous Materials Transportation Regulations by the Union Pacific Railroad. However, my investigation did reveal that the shipper of the tank car, is in violation of the Federal Hazardous Materials Transportation regulations and will receive a violation for offering and releasing a non-compliant tank car for transportation which resulted in a Non-Accidental Release (NAR) while in transportation.”

“A couple of things should stand out very clearly from this incident,” Guy said. “First, our members did the absolute right thing by protecting themselves and evacuating the questionable area and reporting it to the local manager, that’s a job well done.”

“Second, even with substantial evidence that the affected area wasn’t fully clear of the odor,” Guy said. “UP made the decision to force that second crew into that very area to perform duties, that’s just not a wise decision and one that put our members in harm’s way.”

“For that decision alone I was happy to write this up to FRA,” Guy said. “And even though the UP didn’t commit any violation regarding the haz mat leak, in writing it up we found that an actual violation occurred, and to help reveal that is always a good thing.”

“I want to thank Brother Auker and his fellow crew members that night,” Guy said. “They did what they were trained to do and followed orders, then gathered the details of the evening, and it was those details that led to this violation.”

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