Union Pacific to adjust warning signals at site of parade float collision



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Posted on December 20, 2012 at 11:40 PM

Tragedy in Midland

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DALLAS – A little more than a month after the deadly collision between a Union Pacific freight train and a parade float carrying wounded veterans, the railroad said it will return to that crossing in Midland to tweak the warning signals.

Union Pacific said the changes will essentially have the warning signals activate sooner for approaching trains.

When the crash happened on November 15, signals flashed for 20 seconds, the NTSB said. Four veterans died in the collision and 16 people got hurt.

Attorneys Bob Pottroff and Kevin Glasheen, representing several of the veterans, inspected the crossing on Monday and now argue that the 20 second warning “was a ‘short warning,’ which contributed to the accident.”

“The veterans on the float had time to throw their wives to safety and report that - given a few more seconds - could have all escaped injury,” the law firm said in a press release Thursday night.

Pottroff and Glasheen said they discovered a defect in signal circuits that were not properly engineered. The lawyers point to a 1992 TxDOT document, which they said, requires at least 30 seconds of warning at this crossing.

But 20 seconds of warning is the current federal standard, said Raquel Espinoza, a Union Pacific spokeswoman.

“It is a tragedy that the truck drove through the red traffic light at the intersection, and as noted by the NTSB, the active crossing signals, putting its passengers in harm’s way,” she said. “We would not be having this conversation had the truck not driven through the active railroad crossing signals.”

In the days after the crash, the NTSB said the railroad’s warning signals worked properly and according to federal standards. There had been no collisions at that crossing since 1997, federal investigators said. Union Pacific said approximately 70 million vehicles crossed the tracks safely during that period.

Still, the railroad told News 8 it will makes slight changes there after Pottroff and Glasheen’s announcement.

"We are making an adjustment to the signal system to improve buffer time,” Espinoza explained in an e-mailed statement. “Buffer time is additional warning time over and above the warning time required by federal regulations."

Though it does not find fault, the NTSB has already suggested the driver of the float is to blame for crossing the tracks while signals sounded and lights flashed.

Regardless, attorneys now seem to suggest they will develop their case against the railroad.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com