Train Repairs Made In California Were Often Not Needed

A subsidiary of Caterpillar, Inc. is facing numerous charges after allegedly unnecessarily replacing train parts and disposing of them in the ocean off of Long Beach, California. Progress Rail Services provides inspection and repair services to some of the most prominent railroad companies in the world. If the allegations prove to be true, they would show that the company engaged in activities that could directly or indirectly lead to FELA railroad accidents around the country. Needless to say, the resulting federal grand jury investigation has put the company in the hot seat and has caused it to lose many lucrative contracts. The repercussions for the railroad industry are sure to be considerable. According to reports, including an in-depth article by the Wall Street Journal, employees at Progress Rail on Terminal Island in California were pressured to produce billable repair work based on the inspections they performed. While repairs were not necessarily, employees were rewarded with more pay; they were given preferential treatment and often received special recognition in the form of “employee of the month” awards and the like. In response to the pressure, federal prosecutors allege, workers often deliberately broke parts that were in good working order. Subsequently, many parts were then thrown into the ocean, which is in direct violation of numerous environmental laws. FELA attorneys’ ears perked up upon hearing the news. After all, Progressive Rail is responsible for inspecting, maintaining and repairing trains and railroad equipment. The work they perform has a direct impact on the overall safety of that equipment and those trains. Interestingly enough, a few other employees from the company brought forth similar allegations in Florida a few years ago, and those claims were subsequently settled out of court. The results of the suits that were filed have been sealed and are not available to the general public. For decades, the majority of railroad companies handled their own inspections and repairs. In an effort to cut costs and to maximize profits, many have taken to outsourcing the work to companies like Progress Rail Services. Since this practice has become widespread, incidences of derailments and other hazards have skyrocketed. Many major railroad companies, including BNSF Railway Co. and Union Pacific, have sued over these types of incidents in recent years. The situation regarding Progressive Rail Services is a whole other matter entirely but could go a long way toward explaining why safety has seemingly fallen by the wayside in the industry. According to the report, Progressive Rail Services employees gouged train wheels, smashed brakes, yanked handles loose and otherwise caused damage to trains and equipment to ensure they had billable repair work to perform. They also engaged in “green repairs,” which means to replace parts that are working perfectly fine. Companies like Progressive are subject to random audits and inspections, so employees also had to find ways to get rid of the parts and other evidence. At least over on Terminal Island, they allegedly threw many train parts into the ocean to escape detection. Why does this case matter so much? Primarily because companies like Union Pacific rely on third parties to ensure that their trains and equipment are in good, safe working order. The employees who handle such equipment every day are at increased risk of injury and death when these kinds of underhanded practices occur. Railroad companies’ top concern may be keeping costs low, but train accident lawyers’ top priority is protecting the rights and safety of railroad employees. Therefore, attorneys around the country are watching the case closely. It remains unclear what the outcome will be, but no matter how it plays out, these allegations will hopefully force major changes in the way railroad contractors conduct business.