This past Monday, July 16th, a Community Meeting was held at Glenbrook North High School in Glenview, IL to attempt to put a lid on the outrage created when a coal train derailment caused one of Union Pacific Railroad’s decrepit bridges to collapse here, killing Burton and Zorine Lindner.
During this meeting, the Union Pacific admitted that this was not an accident; it was corporate murder. One of the Union Pacific’s engineers stated that on the day of the “accident” – July 4th – as temperatures soared into the low hundreds – a Union Pacific track inspector had spotted something wrong with the rails. The intense heat of the sun, combined with the additional heating of the track caused by the 25 huge freight trains per day that pass over the Shermer Rd. bridge, had caused a “sun kink” to develop in the rails.
The Union Pacific Railroad, as always, keeping its bottom line uppermost in its set of priorities, made no attempt to do so much as to slow down the speed of rail traffic passing through the area where the “sun kink” was reported – in spite of this very same section of track having had 4 major derailments, including a collision of two trains over the past 44 years. Instead, they called for another supervisor to go out to the bridge to inspect the rails further. Meanwhile, a 138-car coal train was barreling down the track at 30-35 mph, its engineers unaware of the potentially serious problem with the track up ahead of them. This incredible lack of concern for human life – thousands of auto drivers, truck drivers, bicyclists and joggers pass under this bridge every day – is nothing new for Union Pacific, which, throughout its long and sordid history, has always placed human life at the mercy of the corporation’s drive for profits. Once again on the 4th of July, 2012 – as so many times before – people would lose their lives to the Union Pacific Railroad’s insatiable greed.
Corporate spin doctors were sent to the Glenview High School on the night of July 16th to placate an incensed public, only to have to face two hours of intense questioning from the citizenry.
During that question and answer period, the citizens were repeatedly assured by Union Pacific officials that the temporary embankment as well as the other bridges in the area had been repeatedly inspected since the murder of the Lindners and that all the railroad’s infrastructure was found to be “structurally sound”.
The Independent Workers Party sent an investigative reporter to the scene twice since the bridge collapse to review the case. There was nothing left to view of the collapsed bridge itself when we arrived there on July 6th: the Union Pacific had seen to it that every bit of the murder scene had been scrubbed clean. All the broken rail ties, shredded hopper cars and parts of the bridge that remained had either been broken up and moved or had been carted away already, making the reconstruction of what had occurred a practical impossibility.
All that was left of the Shermer Rd. bridge were some images of it that had been made some time during 2011 by Google’s “Street View” cameras, mounted on a vehicle that had passed under the Shermer Rd. bridge and taken multiple photographs of it. These photographs showed the extensive deterioration of the then 102-year-old bridge: huge cracks in the concrete buttresses that upheld the track were visible, with heavily corroded steel rebar showing in the fissures.
All this was supposedly repaired by UP after those photos were taken, in a brief 3-month repair effort. But the bridge was considered by Union Pacific to be “substantially sound” according to its engineers at the 16 July Community Meeting. All that was needed to repair the bridge was that some superficial covering up of some “minor spalling” or flaking of the external surface of the concrete covering the pillars, according to these engineers.
Unable to learn anything about the condition of the collapsed Shermer Rd. bridge thanks to UP’s extensive cover-up of its crime, we did the next best thing: we checked out the condition of the very next bridge down the line from the Shermer Rd. bridge: the Willow Rd. railroad bridge.
If the Shermer Rd. bridge, which had only two lanes of traffic passing under it was busy, the Willow Rd. bridge is many many times busier. Its span passes over four lanes of heavy traffic. It is one of the main east-west roadways in the region north of Chicago; probably tens of thousands of cars and trucks pass under it every day. An “accident” here could kill dozens of people and maybe many more than that.
So, we wondered: what is the condition of this bridge? What can we learn from studying this structure that might give us some insight into the quality of the maintenance work being performed by the Union Pacific Railroad on its bridges in this very busy and historically accident-prone area?
On our very first visit to the bridge we found our answer: the Union Pacific’s side of the WILLOW Rd. railroad bridge contains key structural elements that are right now – as you are reading this article – in an advanced stage of deterioration. As the following photos show, the steel structural elements holding up the rails upon which millions of tons of cargo – some of it flammable and even explosive in nature – are so corroded as to be in need of immediate repair.
Remember: At that Community Meeting on 16 July, Union Pacific officials and engineers claimed that they had – since July 4th – inspected this bridge and found it to be “structurally sound”. The following photographs of these steel supports were taken on July 16th and 18th; the measurements we cite of the vertical elements of the steel supports were taken on July 18, 2012.
We can confirm that someone – perhaps the Union Pacific’s own inspectors? – have been out under the Willow Rd. bridge since the murder of the Lindners on July 4th. We had taken photos of this bridge on July 6th and had seen severe corrosion and flaking of the bridge supports at that time. Those photographs were taken with a poor-quality cell phone camera and are not very clear. This is why we went back out there on July 16th – just hours before the Community Meeting – with a better camera to take some more photos. To our surprise, we discovered that someone had scraped all the flakes of corrosion off ALL of the steel supports! Though this did, indeed reduce the shocking nature of the advanced corrosion of the steel, it also served to provide us with the opportunity to see and measure what remains of it: the thickness of the steel that exists on these supports once the rust and detritus is swept away.
These photos of the bridge were taken on the 16th of July, 2012. They show the advanced deterioration of the concrete pillars supporting the railbed. This Willow Rd. structure – built in 1948 – is very reminiscent of its now-gone centenarian neighbor to the south on Shermer Rd.
These are exterior shots of the Willow Rd. Bridge as seen from the east side. The structure is rusting heavily from years of going unmaintained.
These next photos show the “spalling” of concrete on the pillars of the Willow Rd. bridge. Heavily corroded steel rebar can be seen sticking out of the sides and arches of the pillars.
The next photograph shows the underside of the railroad bridge. The Union Pacific’s side of the bridge is on the left; the Canadian Pacific’s side of the bridge is on the right. Note the rust and condition of the steel supports just above the concrete buttress on the Union Pacific (left) side; compare to the condition of the horizontal I-beams and the new-looking steel supports just above the concrete buttress on the Canadian Pacific (right) side.
We now will focus on the steel supports that hold up those horizontal I-beams that support the railroad bed upon which the trains run. They are individual supports; each one is centered under one of the horizontal I-beams. These steel supports are (or are supposed to be) bolted to the steel-reinforced concrete buttress that supports the weight of the entire structure.
This first close-up is of a newer support. You can see that though it is rust-colored, the oxidation of the steel affects only the surface of the steel. Very little corrosion has occurred. The vertical elements facing you are 2.5 centimeters wide (thick). Unfortunately, the photo is a bit blurry due to the fact that we had to rely on a 2-megapixel cell phone camera to take these photos.
Now we will move to the first support on the southeast side of the Willow Rd. bridge.
Here is a closeup of the lower section of the left side of Willow Rd. bridge support S1:
This image shows a close-up of the right side of Willow Rd. bridge support S1. This vertical element of the support has eroded from 2.5 cm to just 1.4 cm.
This photo, blurred due to the low light conditions and the closeness of the camera to the subject, shows how we measured the thickness of the bridge elements. This particular element, part of Willow St. bridge support S2, is just approximately 0.85 cm thick.
This next support – S4 – is the worst one under the entire bridge. It measures 1.5 cm at top L; 1.0 cm at top R; and only 0.5 cm at bottom L and 0.1 cm at bottom right!
Here are the complete set of measurements we made of all of the steel supports under the southeast and northeast sides of the railroad bridge at Willow Rd. that are maintained by Union Pacific. If you look at the fourth photo above, you can see the last four of the “S” supports (S5, S6, S7, and S8) and then another steel support that holds up the non-structurally important “siding” of the bridge, used for advertising purposes and perhaps to reduce the amount of debris falling off the bridge during train passages over it. Our numbering system is a letter-number combination: S for South and N for North, then the number of the support, from left to right (SE side to SW side on Southern end of bridge, NE to NW side on North end of bridge. We measured the thinnest exterior part of the upper half of the vertical elements of the support and then the thinnest exterior part at the lower half of the support using a steel tape measure divided in both metric and the hideously outdated US monarchical system (inches). we used the metric scale as that is what every modern industrial society outside the US uses. We realize that it would be best to use some type of calipers to measure the thickness of this metal, but a: we don’t own any and b: the flakes of rust that remain on the interior sections of these supports would have to be scraped down to bare metal to perform those measurements accurately – something we will not do as it would require tampering with the structural elements of the bridge, which would be highly irresponsible. We made no attempt to scrape any rust off these elements of the bridge and only moved some large flakes of rust that had already been scraped away, apparently, by the Union Pacific/Federal Railroad Administration inspection team(s) that inspected the Willow Rd. bridge some time after the murder of the Lindners at the Shermer Rd. bridge. The uncorroded elements of these supports measure 2.5 centimeters across (in thickness). That is what ALL the measurements SHOULD be.
WILLOW RD. BRIDGE, GLENVIEW/NORTHBROOK IL. Measurements (in centimeters) taken on 18 July 2012.
South side of bridge (from SE to SW or L to R): All measurements should be 2.5 cm if support was “like new”.
Top half thickness Bottom half thickness
L R L R
S1: 2.5 cm 2.5 cm 1.3 cm 1.4 cm
S2: 2.5 cm 2.5 cm 0.85 cm 1.0 cm
S3: 2.5 cm 2.5 cm 0.80 cm 0.70 cm
S4: 1.5 cm 1.0 cm 0.5 cm 0.1 cm
S5: 2.0 cm 2.0 cm 1.0 cm 0.5 cm
S6: 2.5 cm 2.0 cm 0.8 cm 0.85 cm
S7: 2.5 cm 2.3 cm 0.9 cm 0.7 cm
S8: 1.5 cm 2.4 cm 0.8 cm 0.6 cm
NORTH SIDE OF BRIDGE: From right to left (NE to NW)
N1: 2.5 cm 2.5 cm 0.5 cm 0.9 cm
N2: 2.3 cm 1.0 cm 0.8 cm 0.7 cm
N3: 2.5 cm 2.5 cm 0.8 cm 0.9 cm
N4: 1.9 cm 1.6 cm 1.5 cm 1.0 cm
N5: 2.5 cm 2.5 cm 1.1 cm 1.2 cm
N6: 2.5 cm 2.3 cm 1.0 cm 0.7 cm
N7: 2.4 cm 2.5 cm 1.0 cm 0.9 cm
N8: 2.5 cm 2.5 cm 1.8 cm 0.9 cm