Unaccountable Railroads: Bad for Broome, Rail Workers, and Public Health

On July 8th 15 area residents gathered at the corner of Front and Clinton St in Binghamton to call attention to dangerous train transportation of chemicals, oils, and “frack sand,” dangerous to our community’s health, economic and social wellbeing. Standing in solidarity with railroad workers currently battling the unsafe imposition of single-person crews, we (the residents) held signs demanding local government scrutiny of train transport and passed out the flier re-printed below. We met on this day in July to remember the Lac-Megantic disaster in 2013 when an entire Canadian town was leveled by a shale-oil car explosion, known as bomb trains. Forty seven people were killed and hundreds of millions in property was damaged. Realizing that the combination of dangerous materials, including those used during the fracking process and resultant waste, zero local accountability or notification requirements, and deleterious working conditions produced the terrible loss of life and property, we do not want Broome County to be the next Lac-Megantic.

We are here near the hub of the extensive rail network that slices through our communities, to condemn the rundown of the rail system and its use to transport dangerous materials so close to our homes and schools, endangering the lives of our children, the public, and rail workers. We demand safety for all.

Rail fatalities are escalating out of control, said the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) back in 2008. There were 19 rail deaths that year. Accidents, deaths, and injuries have increased ever since. Since 2010, there were 87 reported rail accidents, such as derailments and collisions; then in early July the derailment and fire in Tennessee forced the evacuation of over 5,000 and exposed many to the flammable liquid chemical Acrylonitrile, a carcinogen used in the production of high strength plastics.

Here in Broome County, where more than 60% of the population lives within two miles of track, the social, health, and economic impact of a train derailment/spill/explosion resulting in mandatory evacuations, chemical exposures, and deaths, could be much greater.

Causes – collisions, derailments, broken rails, braking failures, bridge collapses, inadequate maintenance, ‘jumping the tracks’, and engineer fatigue are among the causes cited by government agencies, such as the National Transportation and Safety Board. Railroad workers continue to fight against the rail industry’s push for reduction in crew size (down to crews of one), general cut-backs in staffing, reduced inspections of track and equipment, operation of excessively long and heavy trains, draconian attendance policies that limit time off work, reduced time off between work shifts, and other unsafe practices.

Impacts – deaths, injuries, massive fires, mass evacuations, highway closures, transportation disruption.

Threats to health and the environment. Many of these trains are carrying hazardous materials. We, in the community, are not informed of what is passing our homes and schools. In the period since 2000, the following materials have escaped from trains involved in accidents: liquid fertilizer, municipal waste, coal, ore, asphalt, chlorine, ammonia, crude oil, diesel fuel, argon gas, magnetite, vinyl chloride, crude oil from Bakken shale, napthalene, and other unspecified hazardous materials.

We need the following:

The full disclosure of the Broome County Health Dept. and Broome County Emergency Services evacuation and treatment plans in case of a rail emergency.

The full disclosure by all railroads passing through Broome County of their insurance coverage in the case of such accidents.

For railroad companies to pay taxes property taxes, in part to fund local inspection efforts and the betterment of our community.

The immediate infrastructure repair of railroad structures, especially but not limited to walkways and underpasses.

We have a right to know what materials, such as dangerous and hazardous waste, pass through our community. Such information should be regularly announced in local media.

The public should be consulted on the use of this area for transporting dangerous materials.

Rail companies should recognize the Railroad Workers themselves as leaders in the implementation of health and safety standards to be paid by the companies

The enforcement and appropriate fines from OSHA, Dept. of Labor & the EPA when RR companies are found in violation of regulations.

We call on public re-investment in rail systems to provide a safe, reliable system of transportation for the public. Whatever happened to the Bullet train??

Citizens for Train Safety

 Contact Information:    Richard Sprout,   Sproutr@upstate.edu, 607-238-6892







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