Topher Sanders

Reporter

Photo of Topher Sanders

Topher Sanders is a reporter at ProPublica covering railroad safety. Previously he covered race, inequality and the justice system. In 2019, Sanders was part of a team that was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Public Service and won the Peabody and George Polk awards for their coverage of President Trump’s family separation policy. In 2018, he and reporter Ben Conarck received the Paul Tobenkin award for race coverage and the Al Nakkula award for police reporting for their multi-part investigation “Walking While Black,” which explored how jaywalking citations are disproportionately given to black pedestrians. His reporting has won a number of other national awards including a NABJ Award, an Online Journalism Award, the John Jay College/Harry Frank Guggenheim award for excellence in criminal justice reporting and he is a two-time winner of the Paul Tobenkin award for coverage of racial intolerance and discrimination.

In 2016 Sanders co-founded the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit working to increase the number of investigative reporters and editors of color. He is a graduate of Tuskegee University and started his journalism career at The Montgomery Advertiser in Montgomery, Alabama.

“It Looks Like the Railroad Is Asking for You to Say Thank You”

After brakeman Chris Cole lost both his legs on the job, railroad officials removed evidence before state regulators could see it, omitted key facts in reports and suspended him from a job he could never return to.

When Railroad Workers Get Hurt on the Job, Some Supervisors Go to Extremes to Keep It Quiet

Railroad officials have lied, spied and bribed to keep workers’ injuries off the books. “Don’t put your job on the line for another employee.”

Union Pacific Fired Him Rather Than Heed His Warnings of Dangerous Rail Conditions

Time and again, Johnny Taylor’s duty to keep the rails safe from disaster conflicted with his employer’s desire to keep its trains running as fast and as frequently as possible, putting his career and family in peril.

“Do Your Job.” How the Railroad Industry Intimidates Employees Into Putting Speed Before Safety

Railroad companies have penalized workers for taking the time to make needed repairs and created a culture in which supervisors threaten and fire the very people hired to keep trains running safely. Regulators say they can’t stop this intimidation.

Regulators Blast Union Pacific for Running Unsafe Trains

The nation’s largest freight rail carrier failed to fix and continued to use faulty equipment, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. Managers reportedly pressured inspectors to leave the yard so they could keep freight moving.

How Norfolk Southern Is Addressing Blocked Train Crossings in Hammond, Indiana

The railroad company has delivered on early, short-term fixes for the trains blocking kids from getting to school, but some officials are skeptical it will follow through on bigger, permanent changes.

Help ProPublica Report on Railroad Worker Safety

Many railroad employees tell us being injured on the job or reporting a safety concern can be fraught with consequences. Our investigative journalists want to talk with insiders in order to tell this story right.

Blocked Crossings Crisis Draws Local and National Calls for Action

After seeing images of kids crawling under trains, regulators ask companies to address blocked crossings, lawmakers demand consequences, residents clamor for solutions and Norfolk Southern’s CEO calls a mayor to work out a fix.

As Rail Profits Soar, Blocked Crossings Force Kids to Crawl Under Trains to Get to School

When crossings are blocked for hours, kids risk their lives to get to school by crawling through trains that could start at any moment. Ambulances and fire trucks can’t get through. The problem has existed for decades. But it’s getting worse.

The True Dangers of Long Trains

Trains are getting longer. Railroads are getting richer. But these “monster trains” are jumping off of tracks across America and regulators are doing little to curb the risk.

A Norfolk Southern Policy Lets Officials Order Crews to Ignore Safety Alerts

In October, months before the East Palestine derailment, the company also directed a train to keep moving with an overheated wheel that caused it to derail miles later in Sandusky, Ohio.

Do Blocked Railroad Crossings Endanger Your Community? Tell Us More.

We want to understand what stationary and long trains mean for EMS, firefighters, police and families across the country.

A Year After Hurricane Ida Caused Flood Deaths, Officials Are Starting to Address Storm Drain Dangers

Following ProPublica’s investigation into flash flood deaths, local and federal governments are working to secure potentially dangerous storm drains.

Storm Drains Keep Swallowing People During Floods

An alarming number of people (especially children) have drowned after disappearing into storm drains during floods. The deadly problem should be easy for federal, state and local government agencies to fix, but tragedy strikes again and again.

Inspecting the NYPD “Puzzle Palace”

Withheld records. Canceled interviews. Slow-walk requests. The Inspector General keeps hitting walls while trying to probe problems in the NYPD. “There’s a reason people call 1 Police Plaza the puzzle palace,” one city official said.

Still Can’t Breathe

How NYPD officers continue to use chokeholds — which can be deadly and are explicitly prohibited by the department — on civilians, while officers with substantiated claims of abuse go without any meaningful punishment.

Vaccinating Black Americans Is Essential. Key States Aren’t Doing the Work to Combat Hesitancy

States and the federal government also don’t reliably collect data so we won’t have a good idea of whether the vaccine is reaching these critical populations.

Over a Dozen Black and Latino Men Accused a Cop of Humiliating, Invasive Strip Searches. The NYPD Kept Promoting Him.

The men said Assistant Chief Christopher McCormack touched them inappropriately during searches or ordered others to do so. Eighty-six NYPD leaders have at least one credible misconduct allegation on file. McCormack has the most.

Nursing Homes Violated Basic Health Standards, Allowing the Coronavirus to Explode

Our analysis of federal inspection reports found that nine nursing homes put residents in “immediate jeopardy,” including a case where a nursing assistant fed a resident after changing soiled briefs without washing hands.

COVID-19 Put Her Husband in the ICU. She Had to Be Hospitalized Next. The State Demanded to Know: Who Would Care for Their Children?

When Laura Whalen went to a hospital with COVID-19, she brought her kids. Her husband was already in an ICU, and she couldn’t risk them exposing their grandma. But the state told her to find someone to take them or it would.

Follow ProPublica

Latest Stories from ProPublica