Testing begins Wednesday on new guardrails

By Jace Larson - Investigative Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - The first test to see if guardrails manufactured by Trinity Industries function properly will begin Wednesday morning and Local 2 Investigates will be on hand to witness the test at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

Trinity, a Dallas-based company, manufactures a model of guardrail used on Texas highways and used in most states in the country.

Local 2's Jace Larson will be one of two media representatives watching the test to see if Trinity Industries' guardrail impales cars rather than performs as the guardrail is designed.

The guardrail is designed to slow a car down in a guardrail head-on crash. The fronts of guardrails are designed to absorb the impact of a head-on crash between a car and a guardrail. The guardrail head travels down the rail, forcing the rail out the side.

A Local 2 report in October identified many of the questionable guardrails on Houston highways. Media reports in many other states have raised similar questions.

Trinity Industries agreed to test its guardrail after a request from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA.) The FHWA has agreed to supervise crash testing that will be done by Trinity Industries.

Trinity maintains its guardrails are safe.

One test is planned for Wednesday morning and another Thursday morning. An additional six tests are planned in coming weeks.

Whistleblower Joshua Harman said a change Trinity made to its guardrail in 2005 can cause the rail to go through the car, impaling the driver, instead of going out the side.

Harman recently won a lawsuit against Trinity Industries. Harman used to install guardrails and competed against Trinity. A jury in October decided the company defrauded taxpayers and ordered Trinity to pay a sum that could reach $525 million.

Harman said Trinity used to make a guardrail version that was known as a "5-inch" that functioned well.

Then the company changed that model in 2005 to be a "4-inch" version. He said that model creates problems, causing the guardrail to malfunction, sending the rail through people's cars.

Many states, including Texas, have decided to stop installing the modified ET-Plus guardrail.

Virginia has announced it will remove modified ET-Plus guardrails already installed in the state.

Trinity will allow Larson and an ABC news representative to witness the crash test, but not record it. Trinity has said it will not allow media to view the guardrail up close.

Larson and ABC News have requested to be allowed to measure the dimension of the guardrail to see if the dimension matchs guardrails on Houston area highways. Trinity says it doesn't plan to allow media to measure the guardrails, even ones not yet set up for testing.

Have a tip for reporter Jace Larson? Email, call or text him at jlarson@kprc.com or 832-493-3951.

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