|CN was called 21 minutes before Illinois derailment
A Winnebago County sheriff sergeant was on the phone with a Canadian National Railway representative 21 minutes before the rail
company’s 114-car train heading from Freeport to Chicago derailed Friday night (June 19) in a fiery explosion, said Sheriff Dick
Meyers said Sgt. Aaron Booker was working in the county’s 911 center Friday night and was notified of four 911 calls regarding a
possible washout of the railroad tracks near Sandy Hollow and South Mulford roads. The calls came into Rockford’s communication
center and county 911 center at about 8 p.m.
Squad inspects tracks
Booker sent a squad to the scene to inspect the washout and made two phone calls, Meyers said. One call went to the Union
Pacific Railroad and the other to Canadian National Railway.
Those are the two companies that have tracks running through the area where residents had reported seeing a lot of standing
water and water running under the railroad tracks indicating the earth and gravel holding the rail ties in place had been washed
“We had a squad on the scene that shot video of the washout, and we had communicated with both Union Pacific and Canadian
National prior to 8:15 p.m.,” Meyers said. “Sgt. Booker called the emergency notification numbers for both rail lines and spoke to
someone, person to person. Someone from the CN line called back minutes before the derailment to verify the address.”
“We will not comment on any aspect of the NTSB investigation,” said CN spokesman Patrick Waldron.
County reacted as it should
The information about the 911 emergency calls reporting possible washout conditions and the handling of the calls is of great
importance to the county, Meyers said, because it shows that sheriff’s deputies did the right thing.
“That is crucial to us,” Meyers said. “We received information, and we didn’t sit on it. We reacted the way we should.”
What happened after that is up to the National Transportation Safety Board to figure out, he said.
“I don’t know anything about trains. I don’t know anything about stopping trains,” Meyers said.
“All I know is they had 21 minutes from the first time our office called them until the derailment. We have radio communications in
our squads. If they have radio communications, then I’d think 21 minutes would be ample time to notify the train and get it to stop.”
Tom White, spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, said he can't speculate on whether that was enough time for CN
to do something about the situation because it depends on the railroad's communication system and a number of variables.
The train was traveling 34 mph at the time of the accident, well below the 50 mph speed limit, according to information retrieved
from the train’s data system. Because the train was leaving an urban area, it was accelerating, said Robert Sumwalt, one of the
NTSB’s five board members and one of 15 NTSB staff members in town for the investigation.
The emergency brake went off at 8:36 p.m., but wasn’t deployed by the train’s engineer, Sumwalt said. While he wouldn’t confirm
what set it off, he said the brake can be set off by train cars separating from each other.
‘It was ugly’
Charles Addis, who lives in the 3200 block of Shelburne Drive, about one-quarter mile from the Canadian National Railway rail
crossing at South Mulford Road, was one of four people who called 911 about 30 minutes before the derailment.
“Those tracks are used three to seven times a day. When I saw that washout there, I thought if a train were to come down there
it would be a major disaster, and it was,” Addis said. “You could tell from looking at it that it couldn’t support the weight of a train.
It was ugly.”
When he learned of the phone calls exchanged between the county’s 911 center and Canadian National Friday night just before the
crash, Addis said it was a shame someone had to lose their life.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “The community did their job by notifying 911. 911 did their job by notifying the railroad. It was in the
railroad’s hands. Was this a tragedy that could have been prevented?”
Source: Corina Curry - RRSTAR.COM