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Toll-road opponents get day in court

A court date of January 27 has been set for a lawsuit filed against the Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration over the proposed U.S. 281 toll road. `See “Road rage,” January 4-10, 2006.`

Judge Javier Rodriguez will preside over the hearing, which is scheduled for 10 a.m.

Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas and People for Efficient Transportation filed the suit last month, and requested an injunction to halt the ongoing construction of frontage roads along the highway.

Lawsuit filed over Union Pacific wreck

Ralph Velasquez’ home was one of two households enveloped in deadly gas after a June 2004 train collision and chlorine spill at Nelson Road and Loop 1604 in south Bexar County. The accident killed four people, including the conductor.

The Velasquez family is suing the railroads Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Safetran, which manufactures train signals; General Electric, owner of the tanker; and Occidental Chemical, the shipper that loaded the chlorine into a tanker. Local attorney Amy Kastely, who is representing Velasquez, said the defendants “made a callous decision to cut costs despite millions in profits.” The suit alleges companies cut costs in failing to repair a malfunctioning signal and using an old, dangerous tanker that carried the chlorine and burst on impact, releasing the gas into the air. The suit also asserts that the railroad crews were overextended and had already worked 50 hours when the accident occurred. Velasquez suffers from permanent lung, heart, and circulatory damage, Kastely said, adding that suit is seeking “multi-million dollars” in damages.

Last May, the train’s engineer sued Union Pacific, General Electric, and Occidental Chemical, alleging there were problems with the tanker, that no employees had been trained on how to handle chlorine spills, and that there was no breathing equipment on board. Spokesmen for Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe said it is their companies’ policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.

Lisa Sorg

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