View Full Version : New York Times Article on UP and Grade Crossing Accidents

07-11-2004, 03:45 PM
Today's NYT carries an article detailing a seven
month investigation into grade crossing accidents
in the U.S., with focus on Union Pacific and
its sometimes criminal culpability in these

To briefly quote from the story:

"At 5:45 p.m., with the autumn sun dipping toward the horizon, Blas
Lopez, a father of four young children, drove his truck loaded with
potatoes bound for market onto a railroad crossing in south-central
Washington State. In an instant, a 4,700-ton Union Pacific train
rammed Mr. Lopez's truck with the force of an explosion, ripping
apart his body.

Union Pacific responded as most railroads do after fatal crossing
accidents: It blamed the victim, Mr. Lopez, not itself.

What Union Pacific did not say was that the warning signal at the
crossing contained parts that the manufacturer had said, 12 years
earlier, should be replaced "as soon as possible" because they might
be defective. After a witness to the accident said the signal
appeared to have malfunctioned, a lawyer for Mr. Lopez's family
arranged with Union Pacific in October 2001 to inspect the signal.

But a railroad manager beat the lawyer there by several hours. In the
predawn darkness, the manager secretly swapped the suspect parts for
newer ones. The cover-up was not discovered until weeks later, when
the Lopezes' lawyer noticed that the serial numbers on the parts did
not match the railroad's records.

Union Pacific's conduct is a stark example of how some railroads,
even as they blame motorists, repeatedly sidestep their own
responsibility in grade-crossing fatalities. Their actions range from
destroying, mishandling or simply losing evidence to not reporting
the crashes properly in the first place, a seven-month investigation
by The New York Times has found.

Union Pacific stands out. In one recent 18-month period, seven
federal and state courts imposed sanctions on Union Pacific, the
nation's biggest railroad, for destroying or failing to preserve
evidence in crossing accidents, and an eighth court ordered a case
retried. One sanction has since been overturned on appeal."

The full text can be seen by registered users at:



07-11-2004, 07:28 PM
It would appear the NYTimes relied heavily on the trial lawyers' perspective in preparing this article. While it all sounds very compelling, see the following from the AAR Website:

"Nothing in that article can obscure the fact that grade crossings have become substantially safer, thanks to the efforts of the nationís railroads working in concert with federal, state and local officials, highway safety advocates and Operation Lifesaver. The number of grade crossing fatalities has declined by 61 percent since 1980 and 53 percent since 1990. In fact, 2003 saw fewer grade crossing fatalities than in any prior year since record-keeping began in the late 19th Century."


07-16-2004, 02:28 PM
If you're interested in more about crossing safety see the following article from the Houston Chronicle (which had published the NYT piece). The article isn't as exciting as the Times expose and probably won't sell addtional papers at the news stand but it gives a truer perspective about crossing safety.

"Other side of story: good news about rail crossings - Drivers are safer then ever, despite rising traffic"