On July 4, a Union Pacific signal maintainer noticed something unusual in the rails that runs freight through Glenview and Northbrook. The rail worker reported his sighting to a track inspector, who arrived at the scene about the same time
According to Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis, despite the result of that day’s derailment, the signal maintainer acted appropriately and did just about everything he was trained to.
As part of their training, UP employees are instructed to report potential threats to rail safety officers, whether or not the observed threat falls within the employee’s area of expertise, Davis explained.
Other than track inspectors, most UP employees are not specifically trained to identify rail maladies such as the “sun kink” the company said may have caused the July 4 derailment. According to Davis, there are too many different ways rails can become misaligned.
Davis did not say whether the maintainer should have contacted someone else who might have stopped freight traffic that day, possibly saving Burt and Zorine Lindner’s lives.
But had the signal maintainer seen a more obvious problem with the track — missing parts or severely damaged rails for example — Davis said the maintainer could have called a dispatcher or the UP police directly, who could then warn trains in the area.
Whether additional UP personnel were or should have been contacted regarding the signal maintainer’s concerns is unclear. Kevin Thompson, spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration, said the agency is investigating the incident and will publish its findings within a year.
“We have the authority … to assess several penalties if we find violations or non-compliance with federal regulations,” Thompson said after the community forum Monday night. “Will we? It depends on our investigation and what we find."
"While the Union Pacific has already mentioned the possibility of a sun kink, we will take that into consideration, but that is not the only avenue we will investigate,” Thompson added.
The signal maintainer reported his observation about the track near Shermer Road via radio, according to Davis. On duty rail employees are forbidden from using other electronic devices, such as mobile camera phones, under federal law.