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Train Derailment Prompts Wrongful Death Lawsuit

July 23, 2012 — U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is calling on railroad companies to inspect their tracks more closely, following a train derailment that caused the death of Burton and Zorine Lindner. The couple were crushed to death after a coal train derailed, jackknifed, knocked out the supports on a bridge, and caused the bridge to collapse. The couple were driving under the bridge next to the track.

The family members of the deceased have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the railroad, alleging that the company failed to inspect the tracks properly. The derailment was caused by a “sun kink,” in which the rails bend due to extreme heat. For the last year, some regions in the U.S. have faced the hottest weather in recorded history.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that a Union Pacific employee noticed something “didn’t look exactly right” on the track just before the derailment occurred. The employee called a track inspector to check the problem, but the inspector did not arrive before 28 rail cars carrying coal derailed on the section.

Other residents in the area have questioned the structural integrity of the bridge that collapsed. The same bridge was the site of two previous derailments — one in the 1970s, and one in 2009. Union Pacific claims that an independent engineering firm inspected the bridge and found no problems that could have contributed to the collapse.

Senator Durbin is calling on railroad companies to inspect the tracks for sun kinks during extremely hot weather, which some climatologists predict will be more and more common in the future. The Chicago, Illinois area may be particularly vulnerable, because much of the state’s economy depends on railroad inspections.

Union Pacific officials said that the tracks are inspected four times per year, and more frequently when the weather is very hot. It is common for water to be poured on extremely hot rails to prevent sun kinks.

The attorney for the deceased couple is calling on the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the incident because the Federal Railroad Administration does not have the resources. The NTSB said they will not be sending a full team to investigate.

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