Green technology initiatives are making their way to the locomotive industry. CSX recently purchased 15 “ultra-low emission” locomotives known as N-ViroMotive GenSet, produced by National Railway Equipment. These trains apparently emit 90 percent less nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, according to the Washington Post. CSX remarked how this new technology would help with improving air quality in areas surrounding rail yards, but they conveniently forgot to mention how this would affect the people directly exposed to toxic diesel and related fumes – their own rail workers.
We continue to see a general neglect for the safety and consideration of rail workers by these big companies. Another example is Norfolk Southern, which recently released a “zero-emission” prototype train which relies exclusively on lead-acid, 12 volt batteries. Once again, Norfolk Southern touted the effects this could potentially have on the environment, but not one word on how a train filled with lead-acid batteries could affect the rail workers who will have to operate and handle these batteries (which are known to explode and leak toxic fumes).
Another interesting omission from the rail companies PR of these “emission reducing” locomotives is diesel fume lawsuits, industrial asthma and growing proof of an increased risk of developing lung cancer from the carcinogens in diesel fumes.
It’s taken quite a long time for the rail companies to take this issue seriously. Back in 1955, a railroad industry attorney gave a formal presentation entitled “potential dangers from exposure to diesel locomotive exhaust.” Referring to the gases that made up diesel exhaust, the railroad defense attorney lecturer, Mr. Straub stated “it appears that continuous or prolonged exposure to atmospheres containing any of the above mentioned gasses in excess of the established maximum could initiate harmful results.” Here we are over 50 years later and this is still a major issue.
There have been dozens upon dozens of railroad worker FELA claims filed since 1995 asserting adverse lung disorders caused by diesel exhaust fumes, with many settlements, and other claims winding their way through the nation’s courts. As information grows about the harmful and carcinogenic agents hitching a ride on the particulates that comprise diesel exhaust fumes, rail companies and physicians need to take a much closer look at the harmful impact of diesel fumes on contributing to bladder cancer, lung cancer, and decreased lung function.
Decreasing nitrogen oxide is a good thing. Decreasing emissions is a good thing. But if you’re still emitting harmful exhaust fumes that are potentially killing your workforce (albeit slowly), then now is not the time to pat yourselves on the back and try to present your company as a forward-thinking innovator in green rail technology. This important issue needs to be addressed. The safety and long-term health of your employees is at stake.