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Dispatcher, Union Pacific Blamed

May 20, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A dispatcher’s mistakes and a lack of company workload-management policies caused a Union Pacific railroad crash in Texas last year that killed four people, the National Transportation Safety Board ruled.

The dispatcher, located 850 miles away in Omaha, Neb., did not accurately issue track instructions to a train crew before its locomotive slammed into another on the same track in Devine, Texas, on June 22, 1997, the board found Tuesday. The dispatcher also did not correct the train crew’s repeat of the track instructions, exacerbating the problem.

The board also said Union Pacific was to blame by qualifying unprepared apprentice dispatchers and assigning less-experienced dispatchers to territories with high-operating demands.

Union Pacific became the nation’s largest railroad in 1996 when it merged with Southern Pacific Railroad. It created a railroad with 35,000 miles of track, generally spreading out from Chicago westward.

The accident occurred in ``dark territory,″ meaning it was without rail signals and train movement was controlled by distant dispatchers. A total of 29 cars from the two trains derailed. The 15,000 gallons of diesel oil carried as fuel for the locomotives burst into flames.

Two railroad employees and two apparent trespassers on board the trains were killed.

The accident was one of several for Union Pacific during the summer of 1997.

Several days after the Devine crash, a Union Pacific crew member was killed and hazardous material spilled near Topeka, Kan. And on Aug. 20, 1997, two engineers were killed in a collision near Fort Worth, Texas.

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