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Texas records raise question about warning before train crash

By Matthew Waller

SAN ANGELO, Texas (Reuters) - The Texas railroad crossing where four U.S. military veterans were killed this month during a parade was designed to give 30 seconds warning but gave only 20, according to state records and federal investigators.

Sixteen other people were injured when a train slammed into a parade float in Midland, Texas, on November 15 at the start of a weekend of festivities to honor veterans wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Four of those wounded have sued Union Pacific, the operator of the train, and Smith Industries, the company which owns the truck that pulled the trailer the veterans were riding on for the parade.

The Texas Department of Transportation released on Wednesday records from 1992 that said the intersection known as Garfield in the southern part of the oil town had been designed to give at least 30 seconds of warning and possibly more.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said the warning bells began sounding and lights flashed at the intersection 20 seconds before the train arrived at more than 60 miles per hour (97 km per hour).

The parade float, one of two, was an open trailer hauled by a semi-truck donated from Midland-based Smith Industries. The float had been pulling 12 war-wounded veterans and their wives.

The cab made it across the intersection but the train hit the open float.

Two attorneys specializing in train crash lawsuits, Kevin Glasheen of Lubbock and Bob Pottroff of Manhattan, Kansas, are representing the four victims of the train crash, two veterans and their wives.

"Ten seconds, even five seconds, would've made a difference," Glasheen said.

The lawsuit says that Union Pacific failed to provide a safe crossing or a proper warning of an approaching train. It also says the truck driver employed by Smith Industries who drove the cab pulling the float failed to exercise reasonable care for his passengers.

Union Pacific said on Thursday the records released by the state of Texas are outdated.

"Documents from 20 and 30 years ago do not reflect current conditions at the Garfield crossing," said spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza.

She said preliminary findings of a federal government investigation showed that the signal system met federal requirements.

Union Pacific has blamed the driver of the truck pulling the float for the accident. The government investigation continues.

(Editing by Greg McCune and Eric Beech)

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