Rail safety regulations proposed


Five bills pending in Congress to address rail safety. Two man crew seems likely at least for trains carrying hazardous materials. New definitions of hazardous. Greater rail liability. More detection of failing bearings. Or failing wheels.

They often compare legislation to sausage making. The process begins.


They’ve tried this before and pretty much always run into a stone wall of lobbying power from the railroads. Perhaps the incident in Ohio will change things. I will say it was surprising to me (and to a lot of people, I suspect) that a train carrying hazardous substances does not have to be labeled as carrying hazardous substances until a certain threshold is reached; the Ohio train had 5 cars of vinyl chloride but that was not enough to trigger warnings to local authorities, so when it happened, oops, nobody knew.

I suspect the people of LaGrange Kentucky would be well served to know if even a single rail car had toxic substances in it. This is an unretouched picture of the town; about 12 trains per day pass through:

In other things, I seems (at least to me) that it would be vastly cheaper to monitor the health of the axles and wheels at the axles and wheels via wireless communication with the engine rather than installing hardwired monitors every couple of miles throughout the entire trackage of the country, but then what do I know. If an axle breaks, isn’t that something you would want to know immediately, rather than waiting for a mile or more as that car (and perhaps all succeeding cars) get dragged along the rail bed? And given that it can take more than a mile to stop a rolling train, you’re talking about several miles of car dragging.

Anyway, it remains to be seen if anything gets done here. An accident in some remote town in Ohio might not be enough; I say that mostly because more than one mass shooting every day of the year doesn’t seem enough to do anything about gun safety.

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Certain rail routes are already designated for hazardous materials. That tries to keep them out of big cities. Fire, police, and emts along those routes should get training on how to deal with hazards and when and where to call for help. Railroads have units for this training.

Major rail routes may have as many as 20 trains per day. Posting hazardous lists and making it available to emergency crews should not be difficult. But who would look at it. And how do you keep it from terrorists.

As to hot box detection etc dispatcher needs to know. If train crew knows all they can do is stop train and ask for help. Setting out the bad car on a 200 car train needs a place and may take hours. Better to catch problem in the yard before train leaves.