Trains Are Becoming Less Safe
Why the Ohio derailment disaster could happen more often
In 2013, a train derailment and subsequent fire in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killed 47 people and required all but three downtown buildings to be demolished for safety reasons. The following year, a derailment in Casselton, North Dakota, spilled nearly 500,000 gallons of crude oil and caused $13.5 million in damage, prompting the Obama administration to push for a new safety rule to govern the transportation of hazardous materials, avoid environmental disasters and save lives.
The effort to create a new safety rule was fought by industry lobbyists, including Norfolk Southern Corp., the Atlanta-based company whose train derailed in eastern Ohio and spilled chemicals earlier this month, leaving residents in East Palestine worried about their air, soil and water quality.
When the safety rule was issued in 2015, however, it was narrowly crafted and required only electronically controlled brakes – which applies braking simultaneously across a train rather than railcar by railcar over a span of seconds – to be installed by 2023. It applied only to certain “high-hazard flammable trains” carrying at least 20 consecutive loaded cars filled with liquids like crude oil.
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