Gandhi once said, “Action expresses priority.” The actions, or lack thereof for greater railroad safety from major railroad companies shows just how true this is. In Delaware alone, there have been 95 railroad incidents since January 2000, four of which involved rail cars derailing, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Now other first responders are taking action to protect themselves and their citizens against dangerous railroad accidents, which can involve serious injuries and deaths from fires and toxic chemical spills. Recently about 30 fire and safety personnel from Delaware and Maryland attended a training session sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security. The eight-hour incident response course covered many of the threats posed by train derailments, including such basic principles as recognizing the different types of rail cars, and how to handle a toxic chemical derailment.
With railroad freight traffic nearing an all-time high, and railroads moving more crude oil, first responders across the country are training more and more for the possibility of a massive railroad derailment happening somewhere within their jurisdiction. As experienced Virginia (VA) railroad and FELA attorneys we have seen firsthand the deaths and injuries that railroad derailments and accidents can cause, including the Lynchburg derailment and fire from railroad cars catching fire. Time and time again, the railroad industry has opposed any attempts by safety regulators to enforce new standards, such as:
Railroad Tanker Cars: The National Transportation Safety Board wanted to require the retrofitting of existing tankers to make leaks and fires from derailments less likely. But railroad companies have argued that such a retrofit would be prohibitively expensive given then vast number of such tankers in use today. Estimates currently suggest that about 69 percent of the U.S. rail tank car fleet is made up of DOT-111s. But the injuries and deaths that can result from these dangerous railroad cars, justify the safety changes--and now.
Positive Train Control: The rail anti-crash technology, known as Positive Train Control or PTC, is designed to automatically stop a train before it is able to run a red signal or get itself into other dangerous situations. The Federal Railroad Administration says the system could prevent 52 accidents a year, ranging from nonfatal rail-yard mishaps to deadly train crashes. Though some railroad operators have said they will meet the 2015 deadline, including Metrolink and Amtrak, most are asking Congress for an extension and hoping congress will vote to delay the PTC mandate by three years, meaning compliance will not be required until sometime in 2018. The railroads have pushed Congress repeatedly to delay this vital safety improvement.
Major railroad companies are not only putting their passengers and employees at risk of serious injuries and death by opposing these safety standards but regular citizens and first responders as well.