Tag Archives: Burton and Zorine Lindner

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]

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