A husband and wife were killed earlier this month when a railroad bridge collapsed 28 loaded coal cars fell onto their car. The couple had driven underneath the bridge as, apparently unknown to them, a train had derailed. The weight of stacked and loaded coal cars caused the bridge to fall on the couple. There was so much debris that workers did not find any indication that there were casualties from the accident until the next day, when someone spotted the bumper of their car. A search found the couple inside.
Each of the coal cars weighed about 75 to 85 tons. Accident investigators think that the Chicago summer heat caused the metal track to expand unconstrained by cross-ties and ballast, leading to the derailment and the collapse of the bridge. A spokesperson for the owner of the train did not disagree with that assessment of the incident that led to the car accident.
The couple's family filed a wrongful death suit against the train operator, alleging that it was negligent in maintaining and inspecting the tracks. The attorneys for the family do not believe that heat had anything to do with accident.
It is not inconceivable that heat could have kinked or warped the railroad tracks and caused the derailment and the bridge's subsequent collapse. However, given that railroad tracks get hot every summer, the railroads have a duty to make sure trains stay on the tracks. This requires more frequent inspections of railroad tracks and their surrounding support.
Source: U.S. News, "Chicago-area couple killed by train derailment," Jason Keyser & Michael Tarm, July 6, 2012