In February, Norfolk Southern railroad company was criticized for the corner-cutting practices and blatant disregard for public safety that led to the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment — an event that caused an environmental disaster and serious health consequences for those who live nearby.
In hindsight, perhaps singling out Norfolk Southern was unfair.
In the months that have passed since the East Palestine catastrophe, train derailments have been happening across the country, causing injury and polluting our planet — and Norfolk Southern is not the only rail company deserving of condemnation.
Just two weeks ago, the issue hit a little too close to home.
On Aug. 3, a mixed-freight train operated by CSX Transportation derailed just outside of Albany, sending 17 cars off the tracks. The cause of the derailment is still under investigation.
Fortunately for our neighbors in the Capital Region, the train was not hauling any hazardous material and no fuel leaks occurred.
Many other communities have not been so lucky.
On Jan. 28, 16 train cars derailed in Keatchie, Louisiana, causing more than 10,000 gallons of highly corrosive liquids to leak from two of the cars. State police ordered an evacuation of everyone within a 1.5 mile radius of the spill. About 130 residents were displaced.
Had this happened near Albany, the number of evacuees would have been far greater.
On Feb. 10, an estimated 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled as a result of a derailment in Toledo, Oregon. The spilled diesel came from a punctured fuel tank on one of the three derailed locomotives. The fuel flowed into a storm drain which feeds the Yaquina River. Cleanup took more than a week.
On March 30, several cars carrying ethanol and denatured alcohol burst into flame after a derailment in Raymond, Minnesota. The Environmental Protection Agency reported the cars on fire continued to burn for two days. Local law enforcement ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city.
We could go on.
The Federal Railroad Administration is responsible for creating and enforcing rail safety regulations and we call on them to do a bit more “creating.”
CEOs of railroad companies such as Norfolk Southern, CSX Transportation and BNSF Railway are being paid millions of dollars a year while worker conditions worsen, mass layoffs take place and public safety is threatened by a practice known as “precision scheduled railroading.” All the while, the organization responsible for regulating the industry does nothing.
Precision Scheduled Railroading is a strategy meant to increase efficiency and reduce costs by increasing train lengths and reducing staff.
It is more cost effective to have a skeleton crew operate a three-mile long train than to operate three one-mile long trains. We get it.
How long is too long, though?
No one knows.
As it turns out, The Federal Railroad Administration does not set any limits on train length.
Imagine a three-mile-long train careening off the tracks in your back yard. Freight trains run through our community multiple times a day. Where that fact used to be a sign of a healthy economy, it now makes us nervous.
Longer trains are heavier trains and heavier trains are harder to stop.
It would stand to reason, if the government is refusing to limit train length, it would at least require a better braking system. Right?
Wrong. In May of 2015, the department of transportation issued a rule requiring the use of electronically controlled pneumonic brakes for trains carrying hazardous flammable materials, but in October of 2017 that mandate was repealed.
If train length is not regulated and braking systems aren’t regulated, we would hope that three-mile-long train would at least have some sort of minimum staffing requirement, but it doesn’t.
The FRC has proposed a two-man rule which would require a conductor and an engineer to operate a train. This proposal was made last December and has gone nowhere since. Several states have passed laws requiring two-man crews, but New York is not one of them.
It seems our government, which regulates just about everything else, has no interest in protecting those who reside in railroad communities.
Our governor has proven to be disappointing in this regard as well. In February, after the disaster in East Palestine, Gov. Kathy Hochul called for more regulation, just as she did two weeks ago after the Capital Region derailment. She must have forgotten how she vetoed a bill last December which would have made two-man train crews a requirement in our state.
The federal government needs to take action and start regulating an industry that is out of control with greed. Hopefully it does before our town becomes the next East Palestine.
— The Daily Star, Oneonta