> Norfolk Southern fires crew that parked train in fatal
> Associated PressS.C - The three-man crew that failed to flip a switch that could have prevented a deadly train crash last month in Graniteville has been fired by Norfolk Southern.
> February 5, 2005
>not identified by the company, but are named in lawsuits filed by survivors of the accident.
> The crew members - all from the Columbia area - were
>rail cars caused a toxic chlorine leak that killed nine people, injured hundreds more and forced thousands of Graniteville residents from their homes for days.
> The Jan. 6 crash of a freight train with parked
>crew that parked the train on the spur rail failed to switch the tracks back to the main rail, which sent the oncoming train into the parked cars.
> Investigators have preliminarily determined that the three-man
>Aiken, 50, the parked train's engineer; James Thornton, 56, conductor; and, Mike Ford, 48, brakeman.
> The men identified in the lawsuits filed in Aiken County are Benjamin
>with trains, according to railroad labor unions.
> Each has at least 25 years' experience
> Norfolk Southernspokesman Robin Chapman confirmed the fired crew members were an engineer, whose job is to drive the train; a conductor, who is in charge of the crew; and, a brakeman, who operates track switches. Chapman said Friday the workers were terminated because they "failed to perform their duties properly."
>the firings to Norfolk Southern or, if necessary, a national labor board.
> Spokesmen for unions representing the three men say they will appeal
>(Aiken) go, and it's under appeal," said John Bentley, a spokesman for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.
> "We don't agree with Norfolk Southern's decision to let
>crew members have been interviewed by the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash. It might be a year before the NTSB completes its investigation. The Federal Railroad Administration, in a safety advisory last month, said the likely cause of the crash was human error, rather than switch failure or sabotage.
> The three
>was conducting its own, internal investigation. At least 15 lawsuits have been filed against Norfolk Southern since the wreck. Of those, at least six filed on behalf of wreck victims name Aiken, Ford and Thornton as defendants. The three, along with their former employer, are accused of negligence.
> Chapman earlier said the railroad
>Bentley said Aiken, the engineer, "at no time came into contact with the switch" that was not reset.
>United Transportation Union, which plans to fight to get them their jobs back as well, said union spokesman Frank Wilner.
> The other two men are represented by the
>process under the contract, and we will defend them through the appellate process," Wilner said.
> "There is an appeal
>told The (Columbia) State newspaper that they don't deserve the scrutiny they're under, that they have led quiet, responsible lives.
> Friends and neighbors of the three men
> Aiken, Thornton andFord wouldn't comment when asked by The State about the Graniteville wreck. >
>Thornton's across-the-street neighbor, Melody Johnson, who met Thornton when she moved to her home six years ago. "To pin it on one person is not fair."
> "That was just a complete accident what happened," said
>her children or he was at the hospital praying with the family. "My kids think of them as grandparents," Johnson said.
> Johnson said during a recent family illness, Thornton and his wife kept
>in a wood shop behind his small brick home when he was approached recently by a reporter and declined to discuss the wreck. "I just can't speak about it," he said softly. "We're just going through a hard time right now."
> Thornton was working
>Aiken is a federally certified train engineer who never had been involved in any serious crash before the Graniteville wreck, Bentley said. Aiken had instructed new engineers for Norfolk Southern.
>pride in safety," Bentley said.
> "They say he always takes
>28 years of experience, said his lawyer, Biff Sowell of Columbia. Sowell said he couldn't discuss details of the crash, saying he was just recently hired by Ford.
> Ford is a brakeman with 25 to