Category Archives: Union Pacific

The Union Pacific Railroad and the Federal Railroad Administration – Literally In Bed With Each Other

As we were writing to the top elected officials in the towns of Northbrook and Glenview, IL today to inform them of the results of our investigation of the quality of Union Pacific’s “maintenance” of the remaining uncollapsed railroad bridges in their towns, we were compelled to do some quick research in order to remind ourselves, once again, just how long-running that criminal conspiracy called the Union Pacific Railroad has been.

Our very first search took us – where else? – to Wikipedia, which supplied us with these nuggets of information regarding UP’s safety record of late:

“On June 28, 2004 in Macdona, Texas a UP train collided with an idle BNSF train resulting in the puncturing of a 90-ton tank car carrying liquified chlorine. As the chlorine vaporized, a toxic “yellow cloud” soon formed which killed 3 (the UP conductor and two residents nearby) and caused 43 hospitalizations. The costs of cleanup and property damaged during the incident exceeded 7 million dollars.

“Another derailment in November 1994 killed a bystander in a neighboring business in San Antonio. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson demanded a federal investigation in the Union Pacific crashes around Bexar County.[20] Area civic leaders called for the rerouting of Union Pacific’s hazardous chemicals around the city altogether.[citation needed] In March 2005, Texas Governor Rick Perry supported a plan to reroute trains around large urban population centers in the state of Texas, including San Antonio[21]

“Various investigations of the Macdona incident have revealed several serious safety lapses on the part of the Union Pacific and its employees; specifically, Federal Railroad Administration officials in 2004 have reported that the Union Pacific had “notable deficiencies”, including its employees not following the company’s own safety rules.  While initial reports blamed “fatigue” of the crew of the UP train,[citation needed] many other contributing factors have been cited. Among those, the chlorine tank cars were improperly placed near the front of the train. Cars containing hazardous materials have traditionally been placed away from the front of the train, an operational measure used to safeguard against the likelihood of the such cars being among the first affected in a derailment and to reduce their likelihood of colliding with heavier steel cars.[clarification needed]

“In the aftermath of the Macdona and other incidents, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) signed a compliance agreement with the railroad in November 2004 in which the railroad promised to rectify the “notable deficiencies” that regulators found.  Specifically, the agreement mandated increased training for railroad managers and increased the number of FRA inspectors in the region by 10.  United States Assemblyman Charlie Gonzalez questioned if the agreement went far enough; he and other Congressional delegation members questioned the FRA’s “partnership” approach as being “too cozy a relationship to the railroads” and cited an article in The New York Times that reported that the acting FRA administrator, Betty Monro, and the chief lobbyist for Union Pacific, Mary E. McAuliffe, had vacationed several times together on Nantucket.

“The railroad’s San Antonio Service Unit (SASU) has had other derailments,  including a Schulenburg, Texas incident in June 2009 where tank cars containing chlorine and petroleum naptha xylene derailed but were not punctured.

“On June 24, 2012, three crew members were killed when two Union Pacific trains slammed into each other just east of Goodwell, about 300 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. One of the trains should have been waiting on a side track for the other train to pass. The crash triggered a diesel-fueled fireball that appeared to weld the locomotives together.”
[Source: Wikipedia – “Union Pacific Railroad”]

They haven’t even updated this article to include the Union Pacific’s murder of the Lindners at the Shermer Rd. bridge in Glenview, IL on July 4th, 2012.

But that’s nothing!  Did you read that thing about the UP’s chief lobbyist and the Federal Railroad Administration’s then-acting administrator vacationing together on Nantucket?  For years!

Oh, my!  Why is it that the Glenview and Northbrook town officials never expressed even the slightest bit of dismay over the FRA and not the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) conducting the investigation of the corporate murder of the Lindners?  Are they completely unaware that the FRA and UP are, apparently, literally in bed together?

So, being the unpaid investigators of these things that we are, and knowing that the village executives who make hundreds of times more money than we do for doing their jobs will never bother to even do the most cursory investigation into the incestuous history of the FRA and the UP, we dug a bit further.

The Wikipedia article cites a New York Times article – “Regulators Plan to Step Up Union Pacific Safety Checks” –

from 2004!   This article merely alludes to the criminal relationship that exists between the Union Pacific Railroad and its “regulator”, the FRA.

So, we dug further into the archives of the New York Times and found this jewel:

“For Railroads and the Safety Overseer, Close Ties” .    This is also from 2004, and it’s almost unbelievable.

“Federal inspectors were clearly troubled by what they had been seeing in recent years at Union Pacific. According to their written accounts, track defects repeatedly went uncorrected; passenger trains were sent down defective tracks at speeds more than four times faster than were deemed safe; and engines and rail cars were dispatched in substandard condition.

“Soon, the inspectors from the Federal Railroad Administration began talking tough: bigger fines and more of them. But as they began to crack down on the railroad, they found themselves under fire from an unexpected quarter: their boss, the agency’s deputy administrator, Betty Monro.

“Ms. Monro demanded to know why agency officials had not pursued the less punitive ‘partnership’ approach that she favored, according to a July 2002 memo from her and the agency’s chief at the time, Allan Rutter. A year later, in a senior staff meeting, Ms. Monro rebuked her subordinates as being ‘overly aggressive’ toward Union Pacific, according to one person present.

Ms. Monro, who now runs the railroad agency, was in a position to know just how unhappy her inspectors were making officials at Union Pacific. She and the railroad’s chief Washington lobbyist, Mary E. McAuliffe, are longtime friends and have vacationed together on Nantucket several times since Ms. Monro joined the agency in 2001.

“The railroad industry and its federal overseer have long been closely intertwined. And increasingly, like many other federal regulators, the Federal Railroad Administration has emphasized partnership as the best, quickest way to identify, and fix, safety problems from the roots up. But the story of its recent oversight of Union Pacific – spelled out in a series of internal memorandums from agency officials and inspectors – raises questions about whether this closeness has actually served to dull the agency’s enforcement edge…”

Isn’t that sweet?  Why aren’t the so-called “leaders” of Glenview and Northbrook out there saying “NO FUCKING WAY are we going to allow the FRA to oversee an investigation of the Union Pacific Railroad!”  Glenview’s President, Kerry Cummings has a law degree from Kent College of Law and works for… the Northern Trust bank.  Gee, I wonder if they have any business with the Union Pacific?

Sandra Frum, Northbrook’s Village President is an officer with the League of Women Voters, so she should know better than to… no, wait.  Forget it.

These are little fish, swimming with the sharks, so they have a choice: clean the shark’s gills or eat the parasites that infect the shark’s skin or… get eaten yourself.

And what they both know better than anything is: play ball with the big railroads and you’ll get PAID!  Check this out, from the just-quoted NYT article:

“Another big railroad company, CSX, offered the [FRA’s] chief safety official a job potentially worth $324,000 a year, with bonuses and stock options, while he [was] visiting railroad headquarters to discuss safety problems. After the official, James T. Schultz, accepted the job several days later, a federal watchdog asked that agency officials be instructed on the ethics of discussing job offers”!  “Instructed on ethics”!  Ha! That’s a hoot!

Here’s more:

“The industry is a rich source of campaign contributions, mostly to the Republicans, with Union Pacific as the biggest giver. It’s corporate political action committee was among the top ten donors to Republican candidates for this election cycle, and Ms. McAuliffe is the treasurer of the company’s PAC.

“The railroad’s chairman, Dick Davidson, is identified by the Bush campaign as a ‘Ranger,’ having raised more than $200,000 for the president. Until he became Mr. Bush’s running mate in 2000, Dick Cheney was a member of the Union Pacific board.”

Do you really need to know more about the relationship between the “regulator” and the “regulatee”?  Isn’t this just the same old story of how corporate money has caused the corruption of the entire US Government, from small towns to the White House?

Isn’t it time we had a political party that represents the working class, so we can clean house for real in Chicago, Illinois, the rest of the US and that cess pit they call the national government in Washington DC?

IWPCHI

[Sources: Wikipedia; The New York Times; official websites of Glenview and Northbrook, IL; Knox College website]

EXCLUSIVE: IWP Investigation Reveals Deterioration of 2nd Glenview, IL Railroad Bridge Union Pacific Deems “Structurally Sound”

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.

Southeast side of Willow Rd. Bridge – 16 July, 2012 – Photo Copyright 2012 Independent Workers Party

Northeast side of Willow Rd. Bridge – 16 July, 2012 – Photo Copyright 2012 Independent Workers Party

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.

Pillars near the east side of the Willow Rd. bridge – July 16, 2012 – Photo Copyright 2012 Independent Workers Party

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.

South side of the Willow Rd. Bridge. The horizontal I-beams rest on steel supports that in turn rest on steel-reinforced concrete buttresses. The Union Pacific side is on the left; the Canadian Pacific side is on the right. 16 July, 2012 – Photo Copyright 2012 Independent Workers Party

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.

New structural support, south side of Willow Rd. bridge, July 16, 2012 – Photo Copyright 2012 Independent Workers Party

Now we will move to the first support on the southeast side of the Willow Rd. bridge.

Willow Rd. bridge support S1, showing severe deterioration of vertical elements of steel support. This unit’s vertical elements measure 2.5 cm at the top of both elements and just 1.3 cm on the left bottom and 1.4 cm thick on the right bottom.
18 July, 2012 – Photo Copyright 2012 Independent Workers Party

Here is a closeup of the lower section of the left side of Willow Rd. bridge support S1:

Willow Rd. bridge support detail. The lower portion of the vertical element of this support has eroded from 2.5 cm thick to just 1.3 cm. thick at it’s thinnest section.
18 July, 2012 – Photo Copyright 2012 Independent Workers Party

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.

Right side of Willow Rd. bridge support S1. The thickness of this element of the bridge support has eroded from 2.5 cm to 1.4 cm.
18 July, 2012 – Photo Copyright 2012 Independent Workers Party

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.

Willow St. bridge support S2; element thickness 0.85 cm. 18 July, 2012 – Photo Copyright 2012 Independent Workers Party

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!

Willow St bridge support S4.
18 July, 2012 – Photo Copyright 2012 Independent Workers Party

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

IWPCHI

Corporate Murder in Glenview, Illinois – Union Pacific Knew Rails at Fatal Bridge Collapse Had ‘Sun Kinks’

  

Zorine and Burton Lindner – murdered by Union Pacific Railroad: July 4, 2012. Family photo via Chicago Tribune

The 4th of July – it’s a day traditionally associated with family barbecues, parades, political speeches and fireworks – and searing summer heat.

This past July 4th, 2012 in Glenview, Illinois, was no exception to the rule.  It was hot – over 100 degrees – and all around Illionois, roads buckled, lawns browned and people sought cover from the intensity of the temperatures. 

Burton and Zorine Lindner decided to take a drive in their car, cruising through their hometown undoubtedly enjoying the day and the air conditioning.  As they drove down Shermer Rd. at about 1:42 on that scorching afternoon, they approached a railroad viaduct as a Union Pacific freight train ran from the southwest, out of their view, and also approached the bridge.

The Lindners had probably driven under that bridge hundreds of times during their lives.  They were probably aware that this bridge had been the scene of at least 4 derailments in the past 40-odd years.  What they didn’t know was that it was about to happen again – and they were going to be the first people to lose their lives to the callous indifference of one of the biggest corporations in the United States, with a long history of placing human life at the bottom of their list of corporate priorities: The Union Pacific Railroad.

Earlier in the day, an inspector working for Union Pacific had been sent out to inspect the railway line that runs through Chicago and up to Wisconsin and passes through Glenview and its neighboring town, Northbrook.  The inspector was looking for

As the Lindners’ car approached the Shermer Rd. bridge, an inspector for the Union Pacific was waiting for a supervisor to arrive at the bridge.  This unnamed Union Pacific inspector had been sent out by the railroad to observe any deformation of the rails caused by the high temperatures the Chicago area was experiencing on July 4th.  Union Pacific railroad, on very hot days, sends out teams of inspectors twice a day to look for “sun kinks”.  These are sections of rail that overheat from a combination of the thermal expansion of metal when it’s heated as well as from the additional heating that occurs when heavy railcars pass over the track.  The friction of the wheels is intensified depending on how heavily loaded the railcars are, which intensifies this heating.  Modern railroads run on welded steel rails that don’t have the expansion joints that the old railroads had in between each section of rail.  Engineers believe that this modern welded rail performs much better than the old rail system with expansion joints; but there are still problems that do occur with welded rail, where there is nowhere for the steel to expand to when it gets overheated.  When that happens, the rails deform; sometimes they deform to such an extent that the wheels of the train run right off the track and a derailment occurs.  “If anyone has any ideas [as to how to prevent ‘sun kinks’ from forming in overheated rails] we would love to be a first adopter of your technology” a Union Pacific engineer snidely told the audience at the Community Meeting held at Glenbrook North High School on July 17th.

The inspector saw something wrong.  We still don’t know what he saw, and the Union Pacific officials, in their very superficial briefing at the Community Meeting last night wouldn’t tell us.  But the unnamed inspector – who was intitially faulted in the press for not seeing or reporting anything wrong – saw something wrong and did what he or she was required to do: he called the information in to his superiors at Union Pacific.

Someone at the Union Pacific offices – we don’t know who and they aren’t telling anyone – received that call from the inspector at the Shermer Rd. bridge on July 4, 2012.  The supervisors at UP should have been aware, as at least dozens of local citizens are, that there have been four derailments at this very bridge over the past 40 years or so.  They should have realized the high likelihood that the anomaly being reported by their track inspector – a highly trained professional not given to “crying wolf” every time he sees a small ripple in the rails – was a serious one and that something needed to be done immediately about it, because this section of track is a very busy one: 25 very long freight trains pass over this track every day, carrying hundreds of millions of dollars in freight, some of which can include very hazardous material, according to Union Pacific officials.

“Do those trains ever carry explosive materials?” asked a resident of Glenview at the Community Meeting.  Our trains running on that line are rated to carry “any kind of freight that our customers send us – provided that it is properly labeled” answered a Union Pacific spokesman.  We’re allowed to carry “anything, anytime” he continued.

Back  on July 4th, the train that was about to start passing over the Shermer Rd. bridge as the Lindners’ car approached was a coal train: more than 30 hopper cars were fully loaded with coal; each car was rated to carry as much as 260,000 lbs., give or take a couple thousand.  The cars were coming from Wyoming and were headed to a coal-fired power plant in Wisconsin.  “Why were the trains headed to Wisconsin coming through Chicago if they originated in Wyoming?  Is that the most direct route?” asked another Glenview resident at the Community Meeting.

“That is the most direct route” on our system for these shipments answered another Union Pacific spokesman.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here: let’s get back to the events that were transpiring on July 4th as the Lindners’ car approached the viaduct.

The inspector who had called in the track anomaly had called in his report to Union Pacific – when he or she did this, we do not know, because the Union Pacific feels it has no need to report details like this to the public, apparently.

The UP official who took that call – again an unnamed person – made another call: he ordered a senior inspector to travel out to the Shermer Rd. bridge to see for himself if this track anomaly was serious enough to warrant shutting down the rail line, over which another train was about to pass, loaded with millions of pounds of coal, worth tens of millions of dollars.  Obviously, this Union Pacific official who decided to call out another inspector rather than risk the anger of his bosses by shutting down the track until that inspector could arrive must be having second thoughts about the wisdom of that decision now.  Because while that senior inspector was heading out to the Shermer Rd. bridge in Glenview/Northbrook (it straddles the borderlines of both communities) cars and small trucks were passing back and forth under that bridge.  Children were riding their bicycles under it; joggers were running under it.  And a coal train was heading towards it, as were the Lindners, whose lives were about to end were also preparing to drive under this bridge.

It was a race against time.  And, though no one knew it at that time, two human beings were about to lose the race.

As the Lindners’ car approached the bridge,  the two lead locomotives of the coal train passed over it heading northeast.  

This train’s load was so heavy that the train had three locomotives: two in the front, pulling the train, and one radio-controlled locomotive at the end, pushing the cars together.  The idea is that by having a train providing force against the front locomotives, the cars are held closer together, reducing wear and tear on the couplings that connect the cars.  The radio-controlled locomotive is also provided with a safety feature in case of a derailment: a compressed air line runs from the lead locomotives all the way back to the engine in the rear of the train.  If any car derails, that air line is cut, and the engine pushing the train is supposed to shut down, so as not to worsen the impact of the derailment.

The first two locomotives made it across the Shermer Rd. bridge without incident, according to engineers hired by the Union Pacific, thus proving that at that moment that the Shermer Rd. bridge’s infrastructure – which had been repaired only one year ago – was still in proper alignment.

Then came the coal cars – 138 of them.  Each car was fully loaded with coal.  The train was moving at about 35 miles per hour, making for a tremendous combination of speed, weight and momentum pressing down on the already hot welded rail passing over the 103-year old Shermer Rd. bridge.

As the coal cars passed over the bridge, according to the Union Pacific engineer at the Community Meeting, the added heat caused by the steel wheels passing over the already overheated and deformed rails “caused [the rails] to go over the edge” of how deformed they could become before a derailment occurred.

As the Lindners’ car began its final, deadly approach to the bridge, they could see the train passing across the bridge they were about to go under.  It’s always kind of thrilling to see such a huge train moving across a bridge when you drive or walk under it: the roar of the locomotives; the blaring of the air horns;  the screech of the steel wheels as they grind against the rails.

Perhaps the Union Pacific inspector who originally called in the alarm that there was something wrong with the track over the Shermer Rd. bridge was still observing the scene as the coal train passed by.  What emotions were going through that unknown person’s mind as they saw the train approach?  What did they say to themselves as it began it’s passage over the bridge?  And what did they think as they saw their worst fears realized – as first one car, then another! then another! derailed and began to “accordion” into the northeast abutment of the bridge – each car weighing 260,000 lbs. and moving at 35 MPH!  The noise must have been horrible!  The shaking of the ground, the scream or ripping steel, samshing, grinding and then the bridge collapsing on to Shermer Rd., on to the Lindners as they saw, horrified, their lives coto an end!

28 fully loaded coal cars smashed into each other, over the next 30 seconds as the rear locomotive – still in motion from inertia in spite of the cutting of the derailment’s compressed air line being already cut – kept on pushing, pushing coal car after coal car onto the bridge until, overloaded beyond its ability to maintain its structural viability, the entire bridge collapsed onto the Lindners car – hopefully, mercifully killing both of them instantly.

This, at least, is the official version of the derailment, according to the Union Pacific Railroad, as they attempted to describe it to the assembled citizens of Northbrook and Glenview at the Community Meeting on July 16, 2012. 

But is this what actually happened? 

 

To be continued

 

IWPCHI