Union Pacific Can Rebuild Bridge With Little Oversight
The railroad industry has experienced at least four derailments in the last few weeks, according to an FRA release. The July 4 derailment on the Northbrook-Glenview border killed a Glenview couple.
In the weeks since the July 4 train derailment and bridge collapse that killed a Glenview couple, many locals have wondered what the process is for ensuring the safety of a new bridge and investigating the cause of the derailment. This is of particular concern given that the same bridge also collapsed as a result of a derailment in the 1970s.
Patch talked to the agencies involved to chart out the process.
Union Pacific has authority to replace bridge
Since the July 4 bridge collapse, Union Pacific has made clear its intention to replace the viaduct and says there was nothing structurally wrong with the bridge prior to the derailment.
Under existing laws, the FRA does not have the authority to deny the rebuilding of a rail bridge. According to the FRA, the Surface Transportation Board — an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation — would weigh in on the construction if this were the construction of a new bridge.
There are over 77,000 rail bridges in the U.S. and federal law requires each bridge gets inspected at least twice a year, but these are self-regulated inspections that infrastructure experts at the FRA audit afterwards. According to the FRA's Railroad Bridge Safety Fact Sheet, "The FRA does not maintain an inventory of railroad bridges."
The Illinois Department of Transportation has no say in the bridge rebuilding process either, according to spokesman Guy Tridgell. However, any work that the railroad might do to repair Shermer Road as a result of the derailment and bridge collapse will require an IDOT permit.
On July 9, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk issued a joint press release that asked the FRA to “do more to ensure all railroads are equipped to deal with excessive weather events," but the press release says nothing of the bridge maintance.
A reminder about safety during excessive summer heat
Last week, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued an advisory reminding railroads to be vigilant when it comes to safety during extremely hot days, when railroad infrastructure, especially tracks, are more susceptible to heat-related damage.
Kevin Thompson, spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration said the advisory includes no new policies or procedures to combat the threats posed to train tracks by excessive heat, but provides a background of recent accidents and offers guidance proven to reduce the potential threats of hot conditions.
This includes threats such as the sun kink that Union Pacific Railroad officials believe caused the July 4 derailment and subsequent bridge collapse that killed a Glenview couple driving underneath.
Here is an excerpt from the advisory:
During the course of the last few weeks, the railroad industry has experienced four derailments that resulted in two fatalities and more than $5,000,000 in FRA-reportable railroad property damage. Based on preliminary investigations by the involved railroads, it appears that these four incidents may have occurred because of extremely high compressive forces that were present in the rail.
[The advisory] recommends that track owners and railroads review current internal engineering instructions to ensure that the instructions properly identify the necessary track maintenance instructions to prevent track buckling during extreme heat conditions.
(Source: FRA Safety Advisory 2012-03)
A request for an investigation by the NTSB
Meanwhile, Robert Clifford, who represents Burt and Zorine Lindner's family in a wrongful death suit against Union Pacific, has publically asked the National Transportation Safety Board to conduct its own investigation of the derailment site.
According to a Clifford Law press release, "there are lessons to be learned from this incident that can help assure that there is not an additional senseless loss of life in the future, and the NTSB is in the best position to assure those lessons are learned and acted upon."
At last week’s community forum, Thompson, of the FRA, said the NTSB elected not to investigate the derailment when it first occured, deferring that process to the FRA. He did add that the NTSB's decision is not binding and they can still investigate the scene if they so choose.
The NTSB could not be reached at press time to confirm whether it will get involved and the agency's intentions are yet to be announced.
But regardless of the NTSB's possible investigation or even the FRA's year-long fact-finding mission, Northbrook-Glenview residents can look forward to driving under a new Union Pacific viaduct within the next few months.