Railroad worker spotted issue before derailment
NORTHBROOK – A Union Pacific employee spotted a potential problem with a section of track and had called for help just before a freight train derailed in suburban Chicago, killing a couple traveling in their car, railroad officials said.
Union Pacific Vice President of Engineering David Connell told dozens of Glenview and Northbrook residents at an informal meeting Monday that the employee, a signalman, did not think it was of big enough concern to order the freight train to stop. Instead, the employee, who was not qualified to judge the safety of the track, called in an off-duty inspector, but the derailment occurred before the expert arrived.
The Federal Railroad Administration is still investigating the July 4 accident, although railroad officials say a preliminary probe indicated that excessive heat caused the track to buckle, derailing 31 cars carrying coal. Most of the rail cars landed in a pile on top of a railroad bridge, causing it to collapse into the street below and crush the car of Zorine and Burton Lindner.
"Many of these issues you cannot detect because they actually grow and happen underneath the passing train," Connell said. "It was an extremely hot day in Chicago. ... Train travels over this, it heats the rail and it continues to push the rail down the track to a certain extent. It is not uncommon to see these two, three, and four feet out of line.
"It gets to be very difficult for a train car to successfully make it over that."
The accident has led to calls for improved track safety during extreme weather conditions. Residents at Monday's meeting questioned whether the track and bridge had been adequately inspected.
Connell said Union Pacific carries out full inspections of the route four times a year, in addition to quicker checks by track inspectors at least twice a week and every day in extreme heat. Inspectors had looked over the track the day before the accident and had been set to check it again on July 4, he said.
The Lindner's sons have sued Union Pacific, alleging the company was negligent and failed to ensure the safety of its trains and track.
The company said the train that derailed was complying with an order to travel at slower speeds because of the heat. It also said there was no evidence that there was anything wrong with the bridge prior to the accident.
Residents said railroad officials should slow the trains even more in hot weather. Connell said doing so would not have prevented the derailment or caused less damage.