Do freight trains travel through your community?

Maybe they should be renamed fright trains.


In the 1980s, I sold industrial water treatment chemicals to factories in northern NJ. One was a chemical plant in a residential neighborhood of Edison, NJ. The company brought phosgene in rail cars through the neighborhood into the plant on a rail spur. I always shuddered at the thought that there might be an accident which would release phosgene, a highly reactive chemical that was used as a poison gas during World War 1.



Phosgene, chlorine, and quite a few other hazardous materials are a concern if railcars rupture in a populated area.

Already certain rail routes are designated for hazardous materials to keep them out of cities.

Tank cars used to puncture in detailments when the coupler of an adjacent car rode up and punctured the next car. They strengthened the ends of cars about 10 yrs ago and added mechanisms to keep couplers from riding up. Those punctures did not happen in E Pallestine.

Tank cars are also equipped with safety mechanisms to prevent release by tampering. And we learned to allow for pressure release rather than overpressure explosion.

Moving materials safely is important to the economy. Using close to site of manufacture can work sometimes but flexible shipping is important.

Working to improve safety is always a good idea.


And chemical plant and refineries often have residential areas very close by. The Marathon refinery in Detroit has residential areas directly abutting it on three sides.

This is a pic of a small refinery that used to be in Kalamazoo. The cluster of long rectangles in the pic, just to the right of the refinery, is a mobile home park. The EPA was in there for years cleaning up the site.

Screenshot 2023-03-25 at 14-04-33 Geophysical Characterization of a Former Refinery Site Kalamazoo Michigan - Geophysical Characterization of a Former Refinery Site Kalamazoo.pdf

Look at a satellite map of Council bluffs Iowa. a big chunk in the heart of the city is a huge rail yard. Tracks crisscross the city but most of them are dormant or abandoned. I think it might be somewhat safer than it looks because most of the train traffic slows down before it gets here due to having to swap out at the rail yard. Also, I-80 runs through the city too. So, you also have potential for big rigs carrying whatever taking a dive right there in town.

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*June 28, 2004
A Union Pacific Corp. freight train carrying chlorine gas and anhydrous ammonia hit a Burlington Northern Santa Fe *

Cl and ammonia.

3 dead. Hospitalized some. Evacuated the surrounding area.

I remember hearing 300 homes evacuated, couple hundred hospitalized with lung issues. Etc.

Every town I know in TX has trains running through it.
Train tracks in my town are 1.5 miles south of me. I’m down wind for 70% of the time.

A stat from the OP said 1704 (IIRC) derailments per year. Or avg of about 4.5 per day.



Phosgene is most often used to make isocyanates. The Bopol incident in India was methyl isocyanate. I am surprised that anyone ships or even stores such materials. Most is made on site where used and quantities are limited. The industry is very aware of these risks and tries to limit such incidents.

Chlorine also can often be made on site but usually it gets shipped for water treatment. You can use chlorox instead (made by dissolving chlorine in sodium hydroxide (aka caustic soda or lye), but you end up shipping more water. So higher shipping costs.

Railroads are a fundamental problem. Most were built to go downtown from the days when they served passenger that was where the train station was located. Similarly most business was on the waterfront (river or seaport). Now most manufacturing has moved to industrial areas elsewhere. Trains no longer need to go downtown. But relocating them will cost a fortune.

Across the midwest, many towns were founded as railroad towns. They needed train stations for signals but also for passengers and for freight. Mail arrived by rail. People traveled by rail. Towns grew up around the railroad. Train station is still in the center of many towns. People like to live near railroads in spite of the risks they should know about.

It is true most places that land near big plants is less expensive. Big trucks, noise, fumes, odors, etc. Companies are learning to build plants in the middle of nowhere when they can and to buy up lots of buffer space around the plant. For years that was not the rule. Workers lived in town and wanted to be close to work.

The risks are likely to always be there in one form or another. Better safety is a good idea.


I recall news about a military truck loaded with ammunition blowing up in a town in Colombia devastating several city blocks. Then there was the explosion in Lebanon…

We had a power utility storage tank explosion in Venezuela. The fire might not have been preventable but trying to extinguish it with water instead of letting ti burn out (while cooling the adjacent tanks with water) seems to have been the proper procedure.

BTW, the media insisted on getting a closeup view of the fire and many were killed in the blast.

No one nowhere is perfectly safe, some of us are just luckier than others.

The Captain


Actually, you can put out burning oil with water. I did it in DC school at Great Lakes.

This was the first phase, attacking an open tank of fuel oil. The second phase was going into the concrete building in the background, and putting out a burning tank of oil inside the building.