On November 1st a federal judge will issue his ruling on whether or not he will allow two expert witnesses, James Whelan, a mechanical engineer, and Al Blackwell, a former railroad track inspector and train crash inspector, to testify at the trial against CSX Transportation and Union Tank Car Co. that is expected to begin on November 13, 2017. The lawsuit stems from a train derailment and chemical fire in Maryville on July 2, 2015.
The derailment, which both parties agree was caused by an overheated roller bearing, lead to one of the tank cars containing the toxic chemical acrylonitrile to become punctured. The leak caused a fire that burned for 16 hours. While there were no fatalities there were numerous people, including the plaintiffs, hospitalized for inhalation-related injuries.
During the pretrial hearing, Mr. Whelan testified that the roller bearing in question had been in use for 21 years at the time of the derailment. However, the grease used to lubricate the bearing during manufacturing has a useful life expectancy of 10 years. Mr. Whelan said “You risk death, injury, or something like this….The grease went 11 years beyond its useful life…..A lubricant has a defined life, it doesn’t matter who made it. It is defective after 10 years.”
He went on to criticise CSX because he feels the workers should have seen the excess grease leaking out of the bearing when the train was still in Ohio. The leak should have prompted them to change the bearing.
Mr. Blackwell feels CSX did not install hot bearing detectors close enough on the tracks to be effective. He feels to be effective they should be placed between 10-15 miles apart. However, CSX policy states they should be placed every 20-25 miles. The detectors on this stretch of track are 26.5 miles apart. Mr. Blackwell feels there were “plenty of spaces” CSX could have placed these detectors along that stretch of track. Additionally, Mr. Blackwell feels CSX crew members should have seen the sparks that would be coming from the overheated bearing. “It is my opinion there were several sight lines available…They could have seen the sparking that was going on.”
Mechanical engineer, former train worker criticize CSX, tank car owner over Maryville train derailment