The recent Ohio train derailment, which saw cars from a cargo ship carrying 150 cars of toxic chemicals off the rails in the city of eastern Palestine, is just one of more than a dozen rail accidents reported to have taken place across the United States since then early 2023.
Accordingly, the accident was not even the first to occur in Ohio this year news weekwith another derailment occurring on 19 January between Trinway and Adam’s Mill.
In that incident, a 97-car, 1.2-mile Ohio Central Railroad train slid off the rails, even though they were empty at the time, so no cargo spilled and no one was injured.
“A thorough investigation into the cause is ongoing,” a company spokesman said The Zanesville Times Recorder he subsequently added that he expects his crew to have the cars upright and cleared the scene within a week.
news week counts no fewer than three other accidents this year in South Carolina alone – near Lake City at 9 Philadelphia and others in Alabama, Alaska, Louisiana and Texas.
But it is the incident in East Palestine that has shed new light on America’s underreported rail sector and the challenges it faces.
The accident happened just after 9pm on Friday February 3 when 38 Norfolk Southern wagons fell off the rails after investigators later determined it was a broken axle, 10 of which contained hazardous materials transported across the country.
Fortunately, no one was injured, but more than 2,000 of eastern Palestine’s approximately 4,800 residents had to be temporarily evacuated from the area due to health concerns from the chemical plague.
As part of the cleanup effort, five of the tankers, which contained vinyl chloride – a compound used to make plastic pipe, wire, cable jackets, car parts and packaging but which can cause cancer – had to be deliberately broken open by emergency crews who diverted the substance into dug a trench and performed a controlled burn to prevent an explosion, causing toxic black clouds to rise into the atmosphere.
Evacuated residents have since been allowed to return home after the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which have been monitoring air and water pollutants since the accident, reported the levels found were not significant enough to cause lasting health impairment .
But that didn’t do much to calm locals, some of whom nonetheless reported symptoms like a runny nose, sore throat and headache after the disaster, while an estimated 3,500 fish turned up dead in surrounding waters.
Rail accidents like this are actually relatively common in the United States, although the consequences are rarely that dramatic.
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics records 54,539 train derailments between 1990 and 2021, an average of 1,704 per year.
While that may sound like a lot, the fatality rate from such incidents is low, averaging just four deaths a year over the same period.
However, railroad experts have argued that the crash in East Palestine was the inevitable result of compromised safety measures and reduced workforces, part of an effort to boost railroad companies’ profits.
Steven Ditmeyer, a former top Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) official, told the investigative news outlet The lever that the severity of the accident may have been exacerbated by the lack of electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes.
Former US President Barack Obama passed legislation making ECP brakes mandatory for trains carrying hazardous, combustible materials, but the order was overturned in 2017 due to an attack on “red tape” by the Donald Trump administration.
The National Transportation Safety Board has confirmed that the trains derailed in East Palestine were not equipped with ECP brakes, The lever reports.
In the meantime, the railway workers’ union has become involved The new republic that a management practice introduced by railway companies called Precision Scheduled Railroading – which organizes freight planning on a basis of individual carriages rather than considering the balance of the train as a whole – may have played a role and contribute to future accidents by ignoring safety concerns.
Ian Jefferies, executive director of the Association of American Railroads’ trade group, has sought to reassure the public about chemical cargo safety by insisting that 99.9 percent of all dangerous goods shipments reach their destinations safely.
FRA data showed that in 2022 just 11 train accidents in the US released hazardous chemicals from about 535 million miles traveled, which compared favorably to decade highs of 20 recorded in both 2018 and 2020.
“Railways are without question the safest form of overland transportation of goods in the country,” said Mr. Jefferies.
“But railroads are also working towards zero incidents. Until we reach that goal, we won’t be where we want to be.”