July 23, 2012 — Dick Durbin, an Illinois State Senator, is calling on railroads to perform more thorough inspections of their tracks during the summer heat wave. On July 4, 2012, a train derailed and struck a bridge. The bridge collapsed on a car, killing Burton and Zorine Lindner. The family members of the couple have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the railroad, alleging that they failed to inspect the track or respond quickly to known safety hazards.
One side effect of the summer heat wave hitting many parts of the United States may be heat-related train derailments. The train derailment occurred because of a “sun kink,” which is when parts of the track buckle under extreme heat. Illinois and other states on the U.S. have faced record heat this summer.
The plaintiffs allege that the railroad failed to adequately inspect for sun kinks. A Union Pacific employee actually noticed that something “didn’t look exactly right” with the track. The employee notified his superiors, and an inspector was called to check the problem with the track. However, the inspector did not arrive before a train with 28 cars carrying coal hit the defective track and derailed. The derailment caused the train to jackknife into the bridge, causing it to collapse.
When Union Pacific held a conference in an auditorium for residents in the neighborhood, some questioned the safety of the bridge itself. Other derailments occurred at that same place in the 1970s and in 2009. However, Union Pacific claims that an independent engineering firm deemed the bridge safe.
The Chicago area is a hub of railroad activity, and Senator Durbin is calling on railroads to increase their inspections due to the risk of sun kinks. He noted that some climatologists predict that extremely hot summertime weather may become more and more common, which increases the need for train track inspections to prevent derailments.
Union Pacific officials say that the railroad train tracks are already inspected more often during hot weather, and also four times per year. When inspectors find very hot tracks, they may pour water to cool the track.
The family of the deceased couple have hired an attorney and filed a wrongful death lawsuit. The attorney has asked the National Transportation Safety Board to review the case, saying that the Federal Railroad Administration does not have the resources to conduct a thorough investigation. The NTSB responded that they will not send a full team to investigate the accident.
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