Former Wyoming Railroad Yardmaster Says UP Cuts Vital Safety Positions At Rail Yards

A former Wyoming Union Pacific rail yardmaster said the company is trying to operate with smaller crews, which includes cutting vital trained people who control rail traffic.

July 26, 20234 min read

Tracy Sperry is a former yardmaster for the Union Pacific Railroad working out of the Green River Depot.
Tracy Sperry is a former yardmaster for the Union Pacific Railroad working out of the Green River Depot. (Kevin Killough, Cowboy State Daily)

Tracy Sperry was working as a rail yard master for the Union Pacific railroad at the Green River yard in April when was told the company was eliminating his position there. 

He’s since transferred to a facility in Nebraska. 

The yardmaster acts in a similar capacity as air traffic controllers do at airports. Sperry told Cowboy State Daily that eliminating the position at rail yards around the region is likely why the trona mines in southwest Wyoming keep getting the wrong cars

It’s part of an overall pattern with railroad companies like Union Pacific cutting corners to raise profits while degrading safety, undermining customer service and diminishing the quality of the job for employees, he said.

The lack of inspectors, Sperry said, also may have contributed to the disappearance of 30 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that went missing after it left a Cheyenne explosive manufacturer bound for California this past spring. 

Without thorough inspections, the chemical was able to leak out without anyone noticing. The company has not said how the chemical, which is used in explosive devices at Wyoming coal mines, vanished. 


Sperry has worked on the railroad for 18 years. He wears a Union Pacific 10-year anniversary ring with the Union Pacific logo on it. 

“I had to pay for it myself,” Sperry said.

He said when he started at the railroad, employees were treated well and felt lucky to work there. Today, UP and other railroads struggle to recruit and retain employees. 

In a letter to the Surface Transportation Board, a federal agency that oversees freight rail in the U.S., Sperry said that Union Pacific has also eliminated the rail yard master position at El Paso, Texas, Memphis, Tennessee, and Avondale, Louisiana. 

“Yardmasters are the backbone and the front-line supervisor of all activity that takes place in railroad yards,” Sperry wrote. 

The yardmasters are replaced with managers who aren’t trained as yardmasters and have multiple areas of responsibility, he wrote.

Averting Disaster

As a demonstration of how vital the position is, Sperry said in May 2022, a rail yardmaster averted disaster at the Green River railyard in southwest Wyoming. A train was instructed by a dispatcher hundreds of miles away to enter the main line in front of the Green River Depot. 

At the time, a maintenance crew was doing repairs on the line. When the yardmaster realized that a train was heading directly for the crew, he was able to stop the train before it plowed into the workers and derailed in the yard. 

The yard is near the Green River, and trains carrying hazardous materials regularly roll through. Sperry said that a derailment at the yard could lead to toxic chemicals spilling into the river. 

He provided copies of emails from other employees at the yard expressing similar concerns about safety as a result of eliminating the yardmaster position. 

A company representative testified last week that the company was initiating a pilot program to operate single-crew trains, though a company spokesperson denied that was the purpose of the program. 

Cowboy State Daily reached out to Union Pacific for comment. A spokesperson for the company confirmed that a “small number” of yardmaster positions in Green River were reduced at the beginning of spring. 

He said it was “based on customer needs.” 

Maximizing Profits

Sperry is not the only employee accusing the rail companies of treating their employees poorly. They work long, erratic shifts and find it next to impossible to schedule time off, even for things like medical appointments. 

In June, John Ward, executive director of the National Coal Transportation Association, gave a presentation in Sheridan on how precision schedule railroading (PSR) has led to a focus on minimizing costs and maximizing profits, while running freight trains on schedules like passenger trains. 

Ward showed how railroad companies’ stock prices have risen exponentially since the implementation of PSR in the 1990s, while the amount of freight shipped has increased about 0.4%. 

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