Could U.S. Train System Be the Next Environmental, Health Time Bomb?
In early May 2016, a CSX derailed in Washington, D.C. spilling ethanol and large amounts of sodium hydroxide next to the Rhode Island Avenue metro station. nearly 8,000 gallons of sodium hydroxide, a highly caustic chemical that is used for dissolving a number of substances including flesh and bone as well as for production in household cleaners.
Local D.C. officials insisted that the fumes posed no threat to public health but many in the D.C. area remained unconvinced.
In fact, Richard Eskow, host of the Zero Hour and Senior fellow at Campaign for America’s Future revealed in his article for the Huffington Post that despite the reassurances of the local officials, he fell ill after spending only a few minutes at the site of the crash with symptoms matching those of exposure to sodium hydroxide. This was the scene in Washington D.C., the nation’s Capitol.
Train wrecks have been occurring since trains have existed. They have caused death, destruction and have had songs written about them. They have, on occasion, even prompted evacuations of whole towns. But these incidents had always been isolated. Over the last 20 years, however, the United States has witnessed an apparent increase not only in derailment but in derailment of trains carrying hazardous materials.
Writing for the Huffingtom Post, Eskow details a number of instances that have occurred since 2001 where trains have derailed, neighborhoods evacuated and environments polluted as a result.
A 60-car CSX train derailed inside a Baltimore tunnel in 2001, starting a chemical fire that kept thousands of workers from their jobs for several days. Fifteen streets were closed down for five days, three Baltimore Orioles games were canceled, and light rail service was suspended for seven weeks.
The 2007 derailment of a CSX train carrying hazardous materials in Kentucky sent 100-foot flames shooting into the air, spread heavy black smoke, and burned the surrounding area. Residents were evacuated and emergency work continued for six days.
“A dark, thick plume of smoke could be seen for miles after two of 15 derailed cars from a CSX-owned train caught fire,” following a collision outside Baltimore in 2013. The fire from the train’s chemical cargo burned for 10 hours.
In 2014, a CSX train crashed in Lynchburg, Va., spilling 30,000 gallons of oil and bursting into flames.
Also in 2014, a train carrying hazardous materials in 16 of its 121 cars crashed into a car near Bear Mountain, NY. Its cargo included hydrogen peroxide, sodium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid.
Three CSX trains collided and crashed in Indiana in 2012. Residents were evacuated due to fears that hazardous materials might leak from the wreckage.
The fiery crash of a CSX train carrying shale oil in West Virginia in 2015 forced hundreds of local residents to flee their homes.
A CSX oil train crashed in West Virginia in 2015. “Fireball fills West Virginia sky after oil train crash,” said a headline on the BBC’s website. Three days later officials had still not reached the site because the wreckage continued to burn.
This is not a comprehensive list of CSX accidents. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, CSX trains carrying hazardous materials have derailed nine times since the start of this year alone.
And other carriers have had their share of toxic incidents, some even more severe. Two Norfolk Southern trains crashed in South Carolina in 2005, releasing 60 tons of chlorine gas. One person died from the gas. (Nine others died in the crash.) An estimated 554 people were taken to local hospitals for symptoms of chlorine exposure. Seventy-five were admitted for inpatient care and 5,400 people were evacuated from their homes for several days.
A Canadian Pacific Railway train derailed in Minot, North Dakota in 2002, spewing a toxic cloud of anhydrous ammonia that killed one person and injured nearly 100 others. The National Transportation Safety Board found that “11 people sustained serious injuries, and 322 people, including the 2 train crew members, sustained minor injuries. Damages exceeded $2 million, and more than $8 million has been spent for environmental remediation.”
If train wrecks themselves are not on the increase, the dangers resulting from their derailment certainly are. Eskow’s article sums up a number of high-profile incidents where train wrecks have had deleterious effects on the environment and human health but it most certainly did not list all of them.
What may seem like an isolated incident to residents in Washington, D.C. (if it hadn’t happened before) is, at a closer look a possible revelation of a ticking time bomb moving in and out of the country’s major cities and rural areas.
One of the reasons for the dismal performance of U.S. rail – passenger and freight – is the fact that U.S. infrastructure is crumbling at an alarming rate. Indeed, the United States stands as a shell of its former self in terms of its transportation and logistical infrastructure.
In many instances, something as simple as a failure of track circuit modules have caused trains to go off-track while in others, overwork of too few conductors and a general failure of safety standards and equipment have resulted in tragedy. All of these are preventable incidents that would not have occurred had proper investment and development of rail infrastructure actually taken place.
With many chemicals, the evacuation of a street or neighborhood is sufficient to prevent toxicity in the local population. With some, however, the evacuation distance can be as great as an entire mile or even several miles depending on the substance and the severity of the spill.
So, do we now find ourselves in a situation in which there exists the possibility that major U.S. cities, even the U.S. Capitol itself might be shut down and evacuated due to a train wreck and toxic spill that was the result of years of cuts, privatization and refusal to upgrade U.S. infrastructure?
Will we continue to see rural areas polluted and evacuated and subsequently ignored because of a lack of high profile and their perceived lower level of importance to the U.S. economy? Has the U.S. done what Al-Qaeda could not do in creating a network of rails carrying toxic chemicals that may at any point shut down an entire area of a major city without warning?
So what would be a reasonable solution to the ticking time bomb of American rail? Obviously, cutting infrastructure spending has only served to reduce the United States to second-world status. Privatization has only made corporations and banks richer while passengers and taxpayers continue to get fleeced?
The United States holds a major asset in its rail transportation corridors and rail networks and thus an immediate upgrade of rail systems across the country must be undertaken. Freight being carried on rail that is decades old and falling apart or passengers riding in tunnels that were built when some Americans were still riding horses and buggies is a dark shame on what was once the most advanced country in the world.
“Modern” rail is by no means sufficient for transportation of people, material and hazardous substances. The U.S. must immediately begin to invest not only in an upgrade in existing rail systems but in the development of 21st century rail technology such as high-speed trains and maglev rail. But these improvements and investments come with a hefty price tag and an American population reeling from a world-wide economic depression might legitimately wonder how, in these circumstances, such an undertaking could be paid for.
The answer is relatively simple – a line of credit issued from a nationalized or partially nationalized federal reserve would be able to provide more than enough financing on a scale which has not been seen since America’s glory years. During the financial crisis of 2008 and in the time after the initial panic, the Federal Reserve provided Wall St. with $27,000,000,000 in credit to shore up toxic derivatives and other dangerous speculative instruments. Wall St. provides virtually nothing productive to U.S. society – quite the opposite of U.S. rail, yet Wall St. received $27,000,000,000 and Rail received cuts and privatization.
Wall St. received tens of trillions of dollars and the American economic sky did not fall, in fact, most Americans didn’t even notice. In the midst of their greed and corruption, Wall St., the U.S. Government and the Federal Reserve revealed the enormous potential that exists for improving American infrastructure and preventing accidents such as the train wrecks mentioned above from happening on their current scale. If Americans continue to allow the nation’s infrastructure to decay even further they may soon wake up to realize that their country is now a toxic wasteland. The insult added to injury? It could have all been prevented had only a few bankers been inconvenienced.
Here is a lecture on these ideas and solutions if anyone is interested:
This article (Could U.S. Train System Be the Next Environmental, Health Time Bomb?) can be republished under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Brandon Turbeville and Natural Blaze.com.
Brandon Turbeville – article archive here – is an author out of Florence, South Carolina. He is the author of six books, Codex Alimentarius — The End of Health Freedom, 7 Real Conspiracies,Five Sense Solutions and Dispatches From a Dissident, volume 1 and volume 2, The Road to Damascus: The Anglo-American Assault on Syria, and The Difference it Makes: 36 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Should Never Be President. Turbeville has published over 600 articles dealing on a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, government corruption, and civil liberties. Brandon Turbeville’s podcast Truth on The Tracks can be found every Monday night 9 pm EST at UCYTV. He is available for radio and TV interviews. Please contact activistpost (at) gmail.com.