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After a long career in the railroad business, Michael C. Baker became a supervisor with CSX in the Rochester, N.Y., area in 2002. Right away, he says, he began to notice problems and tried to have them corrected. But because of staff and funding shortages, Baker now claims, he was stymied in some of his attempts to improve the safety of track signals and crossing equipment, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Had he succeeded, Baker maintains, two fatal accidents on CSX's Rochester-area tracks might never have happened.

"If you go out and spend a few thousand dollars in summertime and fix that problem, you can avoid multimillion-dollar lawsuits," he said. "But all maintenance decisions are made in Jacksonville (CSX's Florida headquarters).

As a supervisor, you had almost no input. It was a very bureaucratic system." Baker, 50, of Canandaigua, has filed suit against CSX, claiming the railroad discriminated against him in its handling of a chronic and disabling illness he suffered. He says managers denied him reasonable accommodation for his illness, reassigned him and ultimately told him his job had been eliminated, all after he had voiced concerns about safety and other issues.

Baker filed suit in U.S. District Court in October, seeking unspecified back pay and punitive damages. The railroad has filed papers denying his allegations. Among many other problems he noted when he became a signals supervisor, Baker said, was maintenance related to highway crossing equipment.

Most notable were drainage problems that caused water to accumulate on the tracks, which interferes with the circuits that control the protective gates and lights. As a consequence, there was a rash of false activations - gates coming down with no train on the tracks - in the winter of 2002-03, he said.

Lacking the ability to improve drainage, Baker said, the railroad often reacted by taking the circuits out of commission temporarily. That meant the gates and lights wouldn't activate when trains approached, with train crews instead instructed to stop their trains as they approached an affected crossing. "It was a formula for failure, because there were so many of them," he said.

[United Transportation Union, 3-10-06, from Democrat and Chronicle report]