Thirty-two Union Pacific railroad cars derailed and crashed on a bridge in a Chicago suburb last summer. A man and his wife in a car passing beneath the overpass were crushed in the Fourth of July train accident.
Federal officials recently released a report about the cause of the derailment, more than a year after the Northbrook fatalities. The Federal Railroad Administration concluded Chicago's hot weather that day - a temperature reading of 103 degrees - buckled a rail near the bridge. The warped section triggered the packed coal cars' derailment and the subsequent bridge collapse and car accident.
The misshapen rail apparently had not gone unnoticed. The FRA report said a railroad maintenance employee attending to a signal problem saw and reported what appeared to be a bent rail.
A Union Pacific inspector with the authority to stop train traffic was dispatched to check the track. He was en route to the site and within view of the warped rail section when the cars spilled off the track and onto the bridge.
The federal report said a video of the track taken from the train's locomotive showed the track had moved. Government analysts also stated the railroad company's track inspection record at the Northbrook site was above federal standards.
The victim's sons assert Union Pacific's safety practices, including track inspections, were negligent. Federal railroad officials seem to feel the company did everything possible to prevent a railroad car accident. An attorney might scrutinize Union Pacific's rate of response and the method for dealing with a potential hazard.
How long after the discovery of the problem did it take for the maintenance employee to report it? Wouldn't the prudent move have been to reroute or bar trains from the questionable track until the inspector had time to examine the problem? The answers may not be known unless the case goes to trial.
saukvalley.com, "Sun kink likely caused wreck" Jason Keyser, Jul. 24, 2013