In a trial over its guardrails, Trinity Industries was questioned about why they did not tell authorities about five failed crash tests. The New York Times reports that the case was filed under the False Claims Act by a competitor who alleged that the company violated federal rules when it failed to notify the Federal Highway Administration that it modified the design of its ET-Plus rail head in 2005.
These guardrails are the subject of the safety concerns outside of this federal lawsuits, according to The New York Times. Last month, the states of Missouri and Massachusetts banned the design and began their own investigations. Virginia also took issued with Trinity, and said in a letter that it believes the company failed to adequately test the ET-Plus. The state wants further testing.
Trinity claims that it unintentionally failed to disclose the changes, and denies that the guardrails are dangerous. The federal agency has accepted this claim thus far. However, plaintiffs in Texas federal court this week showed that Trinity and its research partner Texas Transportation Institute also failed to tell the agency about additional tests of a modified ET-Plus in 2005 and 2006, NYT reports. Issues with the ET-Plus surfaced two years ago, but even then the five failed tests were not disclosed, according to the testimony of Trinity executive Brian Smith. Trinity says that the tests were only for research purposes.
According to the whistleblower, however, the rail head in those tests are the same as the ones being questioned now. The company hid the tests on purpose, the suit alleges. A testimony was also obtained from Roger Bligh, a research engineer at the Texas Transportation Institute. He testified that he did not talk about the tests even after meeting Nicholas Artimovich, government’s lead engineer on the ET-Plus investigation.
In the event of a car accident, guardrails are meant to absorb the impact by collapsing when struck head-on; this mechanism is intended to prevent injuries. The rail head, a flat piece of steel in front of the rail, should slide along the rail to push metal out of the way. Trinity altered the design of the rail head in 2005 by narrowing the channel behind the head. Some say that this modification can cause the head to jam; as a result, the rail can be pushed into a vehicle and possibly cause serious injuries.