Must Read: ‘Derailed’, Star Tribune Series on Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad

Some things about ‘working on the railroad/all the live long day’ haven’t changed much over the years.

In the Spring of 1883, a Philadelphia baseball team entirely composed of one-armed men took on a rival club of one-legged players; save for one man whose arm had been severed at Gettysburg, all of the athletes were Reading Railroad employees who had lost a limb in a work-related accident. The life of a railroader was fraught with danger.  [William E. Leuchtenburg, The Supreme Court Reborn (Oxford University Press, 1995), as quoted in David M. Kennedy, “How FDR Derailed the New Deal,” Atlantic Monthly, July 1995, p. 91.]

Working on the railroad remains fraught with danger as do crossing its tracks or litigating tort and workers compensation-type claims against it. And so The Minneapolis Star-Tribune (aided by Pro Publica) concludes in a four-part series (ending Dec. 8) on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF), the nation’s second largest – and a recent $26.5 billion acquisition of the legendary value investor, Warren Buffett.

This series, entitled ‘Derailed’, is must reading for anyone interested in workplace issues, corporate accountability, corporate culture, litigation abuses or just plain excellent reporting and story telling.

On line, the Star Tribune supplies .pdf files of important supporting documents, such as court decisions. I found them very useful in evaluating the stories. The Star Tribune also links the website BNSF launched in response to the series. Be sure to check out the sidebar articles linked on the series’ cover page.

I don’t handicap the Pulitzers for reporting. But if this series isn’t a finalist, I’ll be surprised. It’s riveting, fascinating.

The Star Tribune series raises far too many issues for a single post. I’ll mull some of them in subsequent posts.