A Union Pacific employee reported to a colleague an anomaly with the track shortly before a train derailed on Independence Day, killing a couple who was driving underneath the railway viaduct, the company revealed Monday.
"We had someone who maintained the signal system that had noticed something casually that didn’t look exactly right on the track," said company spokesman Joseph Bateman. "He called the expert in to have a second look to see if it was safe to operate. ... By the time the expert came to take a look, the accident had occurred."
The revelation came during a meeting at Glenbrook North High School between residents and rail officials to discuss preliminary findings in the incident on Shermer Road in the northern suburb.
UP engineers said their findings showed nothing wrong with the viaduct itself but faulted the track for buckling under the 100-plus degree heat of the day, similar to how roads expand.
"As things want to get bigger when it gets hot, sometimes they have to find somewhere to go," said David Connell, Union Pacific's Vice President of Engineering.
With at least two other derailments in the past at the same location, residents expressed concern about track design in the area.
Additionally, attorney Robert A. Clifford, who is representing the family of Burton and Zorine Lindner, called upon the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate, citing its "authority to investigate and establish the facts, circumstances, and conditions surrounding this incident, and subsequently determine the probable cause of the derailment.
He said the investigation taking place by the Federal Railroad Administration and Union Pacific has the "appearance of impropriety, if not an outright conflict of interest," calling Union Pacific "obviously biased" and having demonstrated a lack of transparency.Burton and Zorine Lindner were in their car
while underneath the bridge when part of a 138-car freight train on its way from Wyoming to Wisconsin went off the tracks
. The weight of the train’s pull brought the bridge down with it.
Following initial reports of no injuries by officials, the couple was found a day later under tons of coal and debris from the derailment.
A wrongful death lawsuit was filed against Union Pacific. The suit accuses the rail company of negligence and alleges the company failed to properly maintain and inspect its tracks.