The U.S. Forest Service has filed a lawsuit against the Union Pacific Railroad for starting a 2002 fire in Price Canyon in Utah. The fire burned 3,200 acres and the government is seeking $653,364 in restitution for suppression and rehab costs.
The suit also names MotivePower, the company that installed and maintained the turbo charger which is blamed for starting the fire.
Fires caused by railroads are much more numerous than people think. Most railroad fires are caused by improperly maintained turbo chargers on the engines. If not maintained, large pieces of red-hot carbon can be blown out of the turbo chargers, starting fires. A smaller percentage of railroad-caused fires originate from brakes that lock up, become super-heated, disintegrate and shower the area with hot metal. I once responded to a series of 11 fires over several miles that started from hot brakes.
A cause and origin fire investigator, looking for what started a fire near railroad tracks, can usually find many pieces of carbon along the tracks. To definitively say that a single piece started a particular fire can be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
In some parts of the country, including northwest Indiana, railroads have gotten a free ride. They save money by reducing the maintenance on their turbo chargers, start fires, then many times get away with it.
I know of one instance where a National Park Service manager directed that cases against railroads not be pursued, because the railroads might then be temped to reduce the vegetation along their tracks through the park by using herbicides.
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