Durbin calls for better railroad inspections, training
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin walk along tracks near W Grand Ave. and N Canal St., after speaking to the media in regards to his concerns about railroad safety in light of recent train incidents, on Sunday, July 22, 2012, in Chicago. | Chandler West~Sun-Times
Updated: August 24, 2012 6:11AM
In response to a July 4 freight-train derailment that killed a prominent Glenview couple, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Sunday he has asked railroad officials to review their training and inspection plans to focus more closely on whether tracks are overheating in this summer’s unusually hot weather, and to notify Northbrook and Glenview officials of the review’s results.
Burton and Zorine Lindner, who lived a block away from the derailment, were crushed to death after a coal car fell and knocked out railroad supports, apparently causing the rail bridge to collapse. Their bodies were discovered a day after the derailment after crews found the car’s bumper in the wreckage. The Lindner family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Union Pacific Railroad alleging that the company failed to properly maintain and inspect its tracks. A Union Pacific employee had noticed something that “didn’t look exactly right” on the track just before the derailment near Northbrook.
The derailment was caused by a “sun kink” — an area of the track that bent under the extreme heat.
“Extreme weather events are calling into question current railroad procedures,” said Durbin, D-Ill., during an outdoor news conference next to railroad tracks at Grand and Canal. “For the last 12 months, we’ve had hotter weather than in any time in recorded history.”
He said the tracks where he stood wouldn’t be affected by a sun kink because of the way the track is welded, and the conditions under which a sun kink causes harm may differ depending on the type of track and other factors. Railroads now pour water on extremely hot tracks to cool them, he said.
“This is a new safety challenge,” Durbin said. “We want to make sure the trains moving freight and chemicals and hazardous waste are moving safely.”
Since some climatologists believe each summer will grow hotter from now on, Durbin said the issue has taken on heightened urgency, and is particularly important locally because so much of Chicago’s and Illinois’ economy depends on railroad traffic.
Durbin also is asking railroads to notify local communities when something appears amiss about a track. He has not specified a time period for such notification, and no requirement now exists that railroads communicate with local authorities.
Durbin said he discussed the issue of inspecting track for sun kinks with the chief executive officer of a major railroad he declined to identify and “the railroads know they have a problem,” even though tracks are regularly inspected for heat buckling.
Last week, the Federal Railroad Administration issued an advisory to railroads nationwide to beware of sun kinks and to conduct regular inspections for such incidents. The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating the derailment near Northbrook.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn’t yet decided whether to investigate the derailment, but is looking into it, Durbin said.
Durbin conceded there is little he or Congress can do because the powerful railroad industry has historically blocked or slowed efforts to restrict its freedom.
Meanwhile, Durbin said he also expects no change in federal gun-control laws as the result of the shooting murders of 12 people and wounding of 58 others inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., on Friday.
Durbin is a gun-control advocate who said he couldn’t imagine why anyone would need a military assault rifle and a 100-round drum magazine.
“Tell me that that is for sport or self defense or target shooting — it’s not,” he said. “Military weapons should be in the hands of the military and law enforcement. I think that’s the starting point.”
But he said the sentiment on Capitol Hill is to keep the status quo, which lets people go online to order such weapons and buy them at gun shops.
Durbin said mental-health procedures should also be reviewed, since no one apparently noticed or reported suspected gunman James Holmes’ behavior had changed or forewarned of his carrying out the rampage.