Wyoming Railroad Engineer Sues Union Pacific Over AI Train Driver

A Wyoming railroad engineer is suing Union Pacific, claiming he was hurt — maybe permanently — when an artificial intelligence-powered train driver malfunctioned causing a train wreck.

Clair McFarland

April 22, 20243 min read

A Union Pacific locomotive pulls a string of empty cars through Wyoming's coal country.
A Union Pacific locomotive pulls a string of empty cars through Wyoming's coal country. (Courtesy Jason Kintzler)

Saying the Union Pacific Railroad caused a train wreck by using an artificial intelligence-powered train driver, a Pinedale, Wyoming, man is suing the railroad in federal court.

Andrew Kirol, 51, is accusing the railroad of negligence and of violating the federal Locomotive Inspection Act in a civil complaint filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming.

The Union Pacific Railroad told Cowboy State Daily in response to a Monday request for comment that it will review this lawsuit once officially served with it.

On May 3, 2021, Kirol was working as a locomotive engineer driving a train near Green River, Wyoming, says the complaint, adding that he was still a “strong and able-bodied man” at that point, though now he has injuries requiring ongoing treatment.

Union Pacific had installed on the locomotives a computer software system known as “LEADER,” which was to control the locomotives without input from the engineer and learn through artificial intelligence how to control the trains’ movements over various tracks, terrains and territories, the complaint says.

Kirol’s filing says the railroad company compelled him “under threat of discipline” to use the computer-driven locomotives that day to operate a lengthy freight train on the main line tracks through hills, valleys and other obstacles.

Kirol rode in the lead locomotive, with a locomotive about halfway toward the rear of the train uncrewed and driven by the computer rather than remotely by him as it would “normally” be, the document says.

The train approached Green River and started climbing a hill.

The computer system gave the locomotives dangerous instructions, telling the lead locomotive to slow down and the middle locomotive to speed up, which made the middle locomotive rear-end the front cars, throwing Kirol around the lead locomotive’s cab, injuring his lower back and other parts of his body, the complaint alleges.

“No competent locomotive engineer would have allowed (this situation) to arise under the circumstances,” the document adds.

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The Claims

Kirol invokes the federal Locomotive Inspection Act, which says a railroad carrier can only use locomotives that are safe and have been inspected.

The unmanned software proved itself to not be safe, the complaint alleges. The document also says Union Pacific can’t ascribe comparative fault to Kirol under the statute, because federal law also says courts overseeing litigation with common carriers can’t hold the injured employees guilty of contributory negligence.

Kirol also accuses the company of negligence, saying Union Pacific didn’t warn Kirol that the AI driver was a hazard, and that UP should have protected him from that “unreasonable” hazard.

The engineer also alleges UP failed to train and supervise him adequately on operating the computer.

The Ask

Kirol’s complaint says he’s undergone medical treatments and probably will suffer permanently because of the injuries suffered in the incident.

The complaint lists lost wages, medical bills, anguish and other losses before asking for a jury trial, and judgment in his favor, along with post-judgment interest, court costs and any other relief.

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter