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Railway Sues Contractor Over Tie Coating

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

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One of the United States’ largest railroads has sued a contractor in federal court, alleging that the firm failed to apply the correct protective coating to wood railroad ties, bringing about premature deterioration.

Norfolk Southern Railway Company, which operates more than 20,000 route miles throughout the country, filed suit Oct. 23 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, alleging that Boatright Railroad Products LLC neglected to apply coatings in accordance with specification. Norfolk Southern claims that Boatright, under owner Shane Boatright and principal John Steven Bookout, developed and applied a black coating that would mimic the appearance of the creosote protective coating specified for the ties at a cost savings, sacrificing the wood-preservative properties of the proper coating.

Norfolk Southern train
Specious, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Norfolk Southern Railway has sued a contractor in federal court, alleging that the firm failed to apply the correct protective coating to wood railroad ties, bringing about premature deterioration.

According to the complaint, Boatright acquired another contractor, Seaman Timber Company Inc., in 2009, taking on a Norfolk Southern contract that Seaman had won in 2006. Sometime after that, the railroad alleges, Boatright management ordered staff to stop treating railroad ties in accordance with specification and simply “’make them black’ by whatever means necessary.”

Low-Cost Coating

Boatright also contracted with an oil refining company to develop a coating that, when applied to a railroad tie, would resemble the proper wood coating, but would cost less than the specified product. That coating was formulated without regard for preservative properties, Norfolk Southern argues.

Boatright also used substances like motor oil, antifreeze and paint, none of which would properly preserve the wood, on the ties, the railroad says in its complaint.

In addition to using improper preservatives, Norfolk Southern alleges that Boatright used an incorrect species of wood for the ties, and did not allow them to dry properly.

Inspection Conspiracy

A third individual named as a defendant in the suit, Jimmy Lee Watt, was a former Norfolk Southern employee who the railroad had hired as an independent consultant performing quality-assurance inspections of the railroad ties. The complaint alleges that Watt took money—$128,000 total—from Boatright in exchange for falsifying inspections of the ties.

The allegation that Watt worked in concert with Boatright and Bookout falls under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a federal law enacted in 1970 to raise the stakes in organized-crime suits and prosecutions.

The alleged offenses happened between 2009, when Boatright acquired Seaman, and 2014, when Canadian company Stella-Jones Inc. purchased Boatright Railroad Products.

5 Million Ties, $50 Million

According to Norfolk Southern, during the time the alleged shoddy work was being done, Boatright produced nearly 5 million ties, “virtually all of which were installed into Norfolk Southern’s rail network.”

Norfolk Southern is seeking damages of at least $50 million, according to the suit.

Court documents do not yet list attorneys for the defendants. 

Editor's note: This story was one of our most popular in 2017, and it appeared in our Readers' Choice edition Dec. 27. Since it was originally published, the case has continued to wind its way through the court process; most recently, the defendants filed a motion dismiss, on which the judge has yet to rule.


Tagged categories: Industrial coatings; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; Rail; Wood coatings

Comment from peter gibson, (11/1/2017, 5:18 PM)

Bookout..really. came back to bite em good. Hell of a story.

Comment from WAN MOHAMAD NOR WAN ABDUL RAHMAN, (11/2/2017, 1:39 AM)

it takes two to tango, they say.

Comment from Ron Truman, (11/2/2017, 11:04 AM)

GREED, thats all i can say!!!!

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