A Union Pacific freight train hauling mostly scrap paper and wood through Oklahoma City derailed on the night of September 20, 2015. The conductor and another railroad worker crewing the train suffered injuries that required hospital treatment when two locomotives and six rail cars went off the tracks in the community of Yukon near the interchange between NW 10th and the Kilpatrick Turnpike.
Details on the types and severity of the injuries incurred by the train's crewmembers were not reported, but neither was said to be at risk for dying. Also, none of the material carried on the train caught fire or posed a significant threat to the environment or health. Several recent derailments, including one involving a CSX-operated oil train in central Virginia, have created serious health hazards from burning and spilled chemicals, including petroleum.
Every time a train goes off its rails, lives and the environment are placed at serious risk. Preventing derailments is an essential duty for railroads. Steps toward this include performing continuous track inspections and repairs, ensuring rolling stock is properly maintained and keeping crews fully informed of conditions such as storms and floods that threaten safe operation. Failing to do any of those things constitutes negligence and leaves a railroad liable for any injuries, deaths or destruction resulting from derailments.
It is too early to know precisely why the train crash in Oklahoma happened. What my fellow North Carolina railroad attorneys and I can say, however, is that some mistake or oversight occurred. Identifying that problem and doing everything possible to ensure it does not recur needs to become the top priority for Union Pacific. Other rail corporations, from Amtrak to Norfolk Southern, must also act on the lessons learned to protect their own employees and everyone who lives and works along their rights-of-way.