A signal maintainer at the scene of the July 4 train derailment witnessed a rail abnormality before the accident and called for a Union Pacific inspector, who arrived "about simultaneously" as the bridge collapsed, said David Connell, vice president of engineering for Union Pacific.
The decision to cease freight traffic along the bridge could have been minutes away. However that was too late. The train derailed and the bridge collapsed, killing two people in a car below.
Read Patch's full coverage of the train derailment and bridge collapse here.
Ten Union Pacific officials, along with representatives from the Federal Railroad Administration, the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois Commerce Commission spoke to a crowd of more than 200 people during a public forum at Glenbrook North Monday night.
Rail reps explained the current findings of their ongoing investigation, explained the history of that bridge and addressed questions raised by more than 50 people from Glenview and Northbrook.
One resident expressed concern that officials said no one was hurt immediately after the bridge collapsed.
"We had what we believed to be eyewitness accounts when the incident occured that there were no vehicles in the area," said Glenview Village Manager Todd Hileman, who was moderating the Q&A between residents and UP. "We actually had at least one, if not two residents make statements to our police department. ... Obviously they were not correct."
Other residents asked about the integrity of nearby bridges which also carry UP rails, especially the bridge over Willow Rd.
"Since the accident, we have made another special inspection, jointly with the FRA, of all the bridges in the two villages on this particular railroad," Connell responded. "We found nothing of concern during those inspections, structurally speaking."
"We were lucky here that this was coal," a woman said to the UP officials, referring to the cargo that freight trains carry in the area. "Do these trains also carry ethanol and other explosive items?"
"It carries all, mix manifest freight," said David Giandinoto, UP's general superintendent of operations in Chicago. "We're required by law. We have a common carry obligation to carry anything that tenders to us. As long as they tender to us in a safe vessel we're required to carry that."
Giandinoto told the crowd UP crews have finished cleaning debris in the area, confirmed that freight is moving along a temporary bridge in two directions at 10 miles per hour and crews have ceased 24-hour work on the site.
"There has been some questions about train whistles," Giandinoto said, referring to the sound trains must make under federal regulation to alert anyone who may be on the track. "You were hearing those whistles during the evening, we have stopped 24-hour maintenance operations in that area, so you should only be hearing those during the day."
But several people said passing trains still make the noise at night.
"You can tell us whatever you want to tell us, and whatever the federal rules and regulations are. ... Every night, two, three, four in the morning, those horns keep beeping," one man said to the UP officials. The crowd applauded him in response.
According to Connell, the rail kink UP officials think caused the derailment is rare, and he repeated that the company's investigation has found nothing structurally wrong with the bridge before it collapsed.
"We believe that we had a heat-related anomaly to the track immediately preceding the bridge, mostly developing underneath the train as it was traveling over the bridge," Connell said. "Eventually one car, one set of wheels made it so far off the rails that the wheels literally fell off."
“When that happens, there’s very little one can do," he added. "We believe it most likely hit the far abutment of the bridge with a lot of force and then all the cars bunched up against that car.”
The combined force of that collision and mass of cars that piled on the bridge brought down the viaduct that crushed Burton and Zorine Lindner.
A few hours before Monday night's forum, Robert Clifford, attorney for the Lindner family, announced his request that National Transportation Safety Board investigate the derailment. He said outside the community forum that "the Federal Railroad Administration does not have the investigative resources of the NTSB."
"With all due respect to the Union Pacific, which is a fine company," he added, "they have their own corporate interests at stake."
Clifford said the Lindners and the community are entitled to a third-party investigation of the derailment, "and let the chips fall where they may in that respect."
Clifford said members of the Lindner family were not in attendance on Monday.
Early in presentation, Connell addressed the history of that bridge and rails in the area, including a 2009 derailment and 2011 bridge maintenance project.
“The derailment in 2009 actually occurred from a mechanical issue on a Canadian Pacific train, that the wheels didn’t want to turn … and the wheel came off the rail,” he said. “We saw no structural evidence that that bridge had anything to do with that derailment. That derailment actually occurred a couple hundred feet north of the bridge.”
According to Connell, the 2011 bridge work was planned years ahead of time, "part of scheduled work that had nothing to do with either accident."
State Representative Daniel Biss attended the forum, though he did not address the crowd or UP officials.
"This is an absolute catastrophe," he said on his way out, referring to the train derailment. "What's important is that we all recognize that on a system this big, things won't be perfect. So we put in place the safeguards so that when imperfections arise people don't die. That's the lesson we have to learn going forward."
Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum said she was pleased with the forum.
"[UP] brought in some people that can make decisions and I'm glad they were here to hear the questions and concerns," Frum said.
Glenview's Village Manager Todd Hileman said he felt that UP shared what they could with the public.
"I thought it was necessary to give the community the opportunity to vent and share their feelings and get some answers at least," he said.