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NS Derailment

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  • Stephen G. Myers
    ... could have prevented a deadly train crash last month in Graniteville has been fired by Norfolk Southern. ... the company, but are named in lawsuits filed
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 7, 2005
      >  Norfolk Southern fires crew that parked train in fatal
      > Associated Press
      > February 5, 2005
      > COLUMBIA,
      S.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.
      > The crew members - all from the Columbia area - were
      not identified by the company, but are named in lawsuits filed by survivors of the accident.
      > The Jan. 6 crash of a freight train with parked
      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.
      > Investigators have preliminarily determined that the three-man
      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.
      > The men identified in the lawsuits filed in Aiken County are Benjamin
      Aiken, 50, the parked train's engineer; James Thornton, 56, conductor; and, Mike Ford, 48, brakeman.
      > Each has at least 25 years' experience
      with trains, according to railroad labor unions.
      > Norfolk Southern
      spokesman 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."
      > Spokesmen for unions representing the three men say they will appeal
      the firings to Norfolk Southern or, if necessary, a national labor board.
      > "We don't agree with Norfolk Southern's decision to let
      (Aiken) go, and it's under appeal," said John Bentley, a spokesman for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.
      > The three
      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.
      > Chapman earlier said the railroad
      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.
      Bentley said Aiken, the engineer, "at no time came into contact with the switch" that was not reset.
      > The other two men are represented by the
      United Transportation Union, which plans to fight to get them their jobs back as well, said union spokesman Frank Wilner.
      > "There is an appeal
      process under the contract, and we will defend them through the appellate process," Wilner said.
      > Friends and neighbors of the three men
      told The (Columbia) State newspaper that they don't deserve the scrutiny they're under, that they have led quiet, responsible lives.
      > Aiken, Thornton and
      Ford wouldn't comment when asked by The State about the Graniteville wreck. >
      > "That was just a complete accident what happened," said
      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."
      > Johnson said during a recent family illness, Thornton and his wife kept
      her children or he was at the hospital praying with the family. "My kids think of them as grandparents," Johnson said.
      > Thornton was working
      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."
      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.
      > "They say he always takes
      pride in safety," Bentley said.
      > Ford is a brakeman with 25 to
      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.
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