Union Pacific train derailment in Weber Canyon human-caused

Thursday , October 09, 2014 - 6:52 PM

By CIMARON NEUGEBAUER

UINTAH — A rear-end collision of two Union Pacific freight trains in January caused more than $1.3 million in damage due to human operating error, according to a recently released federal report.

Web Exclusive: See the full report for yourself below: 

Casualty report page 1

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Federal Railroad Administration records request

Here's what we requested and the response we received.

On the snowy morning of Jan. 8, a train wreck in Weber Canyon near Interstate 84 caused a mess that took several days to clean up. Initial reports stated several individuals were treated for minor injuries after a Union Pacific train rear-ended another, causing a major train derailment in the unincorporated area east of Uintah.

Two freight trains headed for California struck each other around 9:30 a.m., according to Weber County Sheriff's Office Lt. Mark Lowther. The collision happened about a mile east of Interstate 84 and the U.S. 89 interchange near the mouth of Weber Canyon.

The Standard-Examiner made a Freedom of Information Act records request to the Federal Railroad Administration on Jan. 8, for the details of the accident. The federal agency noted it was experiencing a backlog in requests in general, but typically it takes “six to nine months from the date of the accident for a report to be completed,” the FRA said in June. On Monday, Oct. 6, the Standard-Examiner finally received the complete report.

The report from the FRA states one train was traveling west in a restricted speed area, which is defined by railroad operating rules that “require that train crews be prepared to stop within ½ their range of vision,“ according to the Federal Register, a government daily legal newspaper. The report states as the train approached a light signal when it struck the rear of the other train, causing the two lead locomotives to derail and other cars on the train that was struck to derail also.

The freight train responsible for rear-ending the other was going 17 mph, the report states.  Two out of three locomotives were derailed from the track. The lead train was stopped at the time, according to the report. There were five out of 101 train cars derailed. In total, the damage to the trains were $1.2 million and involved six locomotives and 200 cars.The railroad track itself incurred $167,000 of damage at milepost 983 near the mouth of Weber Canyon.

In 1951, speeding was also responsible for a Union Pacific deadly rear-end collision crash on the same rail line further up the canyon. Seven years prior to that fatal accident, 50 people were killed in another rear-end crash. 

An analysis of train accidents in Utah from 2011-14 shows that Union Pacific was responsible for nearly 80 percent of all railroad accidents in the state of Utah, including other entities like Utah Transit Authority and Utah Southern Railroad Company. UP had 42 accidents compared to UTA’s six. UP accidents have gone down 30 percent compared to the last two years. UP is a significantly larger entity and covers 31,800 miles of train tracks in across the nation, covering 23 states, according to its website.

The FRA report stated a 41-year-old employee, who was working as a freight fireman and helper, suffered a sprained ankle in the January crash. The other injury came to a 50-year-old employee, who is a freight engineer, who suffered multiple bruises. Both were tested for alcohol or drug use, but tested negative, according to the report.

Neither employee was terminated or received a permanent job transfer as a result of the $1.2 million equipment crashed, according to the report. The crash spilled 3,500 gallons of diesel from a locomotive. Two of the five cars spilled mostly animal feed grain, or corn, near I-84. 

The area had to be reclaimed after more than 3,500 gallons of diesel fuel soaked the hillside and two cars spilled mostly animal feed or corn near the freeway. An number of erosion barrier tubes were put in place and vegetation is slowly growing back.

According to the Federal Register, main track rear end collisions rarely have a single factor or cause. In many scenarios the accident results in a combination of unrelated factors including, ”employee fatigue, distraction due to the improper use of cell phones, work related discussions in the cab of the controlling locomotive and alleged confusion over signal indications.“

Contact reporter Cimaron Neugebauer 801-625-4231 or cimaron@standard.net Follow him on Twitter at @CimaronNews or on Facebook at facebook.com/SECimaron

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