Jul 14, 2003
On June 20, officials of the Union Pacific railroad deliberately derailed a runaway freight train in the middle of a working class neighborhood in Commerce, California, just east of Los Angeles. Union Pacific derailed the train without any warning, no word to police or local authorities, not to speak of the residents of the neighborhood hit by the train itself. People were not evacuated before the freight cars, filled with thousands of tons of lumber and sheet rock, flipped over and sent their cargo flying into a teeming neighborhood.
Authorities admit that it was sheer luck that no one was killed. But there was certainly a toll from the disaster. More than a dozen people were injured. Two homes were completely destroyed, while others were seriously damaged, their residents forced to move their families into hotel rooms for the indefinite future.
Faced with public outcry, Union Pacific's management admitted that it "made a mistake." But at the same time, it tried to blame the train crew that had released the brakes of freight cars waiting in a rail yard to be hooked up to a locomotive because of a miscommunication. Of course, what the company won't admit is that mistakes and mis-communications are bound to happen, especially as it pushes more work on fewer workers.
And it was exactly this reality that management had not planned for. There were no back-up or emergency procedures. There was no one else around to stop the rail cars once they began to roll out of the yard and pick up speed. There was no way to trip the brakes automatically to stop the train from rolling. When the railway crew attempted to notify the one dispatcher in the yard, they couldn't get through because she was on another call. When they did get through, the matter was handled by Union Pacific's only emergency response team in the whole country, located in St. Louis, Missouri, half a continent away!
This was not an "accident" – not by any stretch of the term. This was the result of conscious decisions taken to improve profit and let safety be damned!