Skip to Main Content
Railroad News

NTSB Finds UP Crew Missed Three Signals Before Triple Fatality Collision in Oklahoma Panhandle

By Pottroff & Karlin LLC |

(Tulsa, Oklahoma – February 26, 2013)

Although no reason was provided, the National Transportation Board in releasing the results of the body’s investigation into a head-on collision between two Union Pacific freight trains that killed three crew members and seriously injured a fourth near the Oklahoma Panhandle town of Goodwell on June 24, 2012 found that the eastbound train passed three signals that should have told the engineer to first slow it down and eventually stop his train prior to a collision with a westbound train that had slowed nearly to a stop itself.

Evidentially someone on the eastbound freight realized the danger and applied the train’s emergency braking system eight seconds before that train, travelling at 68 mph, struck the westbound train. Of the crew members on the two trains, only the conductor of the westbound survived when he jumped prior to the deadly crash.

Union Pacific Vice President of Safety Robert Grimaila testified that UPRR employees can be suspended or face other consequences for ignoring or missing a signal. “We never want to see another accident like this happen again,” Grimaila told the NTSB panel.

The NTSB, in its “Wish List” for railroad safety improvement in 2013 had listed the installation and activation of a satellite-based “Positive Train Control” system which will override crew failure to stop a train under the circumstances such as occurred June 24, and which was originally legislated to become national train operation reality in 2015, but which now has been pushed back another five years.

Union Pacific official Jeff Young told the NTSB panel that UPRR had already invested more than one billion dollars to implement the PTC system, but estimated it would still be 2017 or 2018 before UP could activate their portion of the system. “People don’t appreciate the complexity of what we’re doing here,” Young told the NTSB. “This is a huge paradigm shift. The last thing we want to do is be back here with a collision that occurred because we weren’t vigilant in testing and operating this whole new control system,” Young continued. “This system hasn’t even been field tested yet,” he concluded.

Robert Lauby of the Federal Railroad Administration said that while the number of signal violations on railroads nationwide had declined, there are still too many. “We need different techniques to take it down to the next level, to make railroads even safer.”

But Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen official Dennis Pierce cast a dim light upon current railroad operations, explaining that railroad engineers suffer from “task overload” and must navigate new technology and reams of bulletins and memos as well as watching where their train is travelling. “It’s obvious to most of us there are limitations on how many tasks a human being can safely accomplish, and engineers must multitask more than ever before…under intense scrutiny.”

Thus far, it is estimated that the tragic collision resulted in $15 million in damage.


Railroad News


Train crash cases are unique and complex with many different potential pitfalls, such as federal preemption. Anytime I get hired or even get a call from a train crash victim, my very first call is to Nathan’s firm. Nathan’s knowledge and experience in handling and trying cases against these litigation savvy railroad companies gives me the confidence to know that the clients and cases I refer to him are getting the best of the best.

James Perrin Lubbock, Texas

I have had the opportunity to work as co-counsel with Nathan on several railroad crossing accidents cases. In each case, Nathan always possessed an incredible knowledge of the law and the facts, possessed a great talent for aggressive - strategic legal planning and trial tactics while, at the same time, displaying great skill as an effective negotiator. I would recommend him to anyone without hesitation.

Scott McCluen Harriman, Tennessee

Nathan Karlin has my strongest endorsement in the field of railroad crossing cases and personal injury law. I had the pleasure of working with Nathan in a complex railroad personal injury case. I was impressed by Nathan’s knowledge, his work ethic, and his dedication to the client. I look forward to working with Nathan on future injury matters. I am also aware firsthand that he has obtained excellent trial and settlement results in numerous cases involving members of the public harmed by railroad companies.

Joseph M. Miller Mandeville, Louisiana

Nathan is a warrior fighting the railroads. As a fellow personal injury lawyer, I have constantly been impressed with his depth of knowledge and his capabilities from case to case. I’d take him into battle with me any day against the biggest railroads and insurance companies on the planet.

Jon C. Clark Austin, Texas

Bob Pottroff has fought for the victims of the railroads’ callous disregard for safety more than any other attorney that I know. I should know because I am currently Chair-elect of the Railroad Section of ATLA.

Robert Schuetze Boulder, Colorado

Mr. Pottroff has shaken the rail industry to its very roots. Settlements are now more common as a result of the way he has exposed the industry’s wrongdoing.

Mike Easley Arkansas

Bob Pottroff’s work in railroad safety law is unmatched and he has been the source of great advice and phenomenal creativity.

Roger Brown Jefferson City, Missouri

In addition to his substantive contributions to railroad grade crossing safety, I have personally observed his untiring efforts and contributions to improving the integrity of the legal system.

Elizabeth Hardy Lake Charles, Louisiana

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8