Several years ago, while traveling on Bart to an Oakland Raiders game, I noticed something very sobering. There was a long, long, long line of railroad tank cars, most of which looked pretty ancient, sitting there waiting to be loaded up with gas or oil and transported. That was when I realize that these tank cars were traveling through cities and towns all over the country and to me, and my hunch was most people were unaware of the potential disaster traveling through their town. At a minimum, at least to me, this looked like a really bad accident waiting to happen.
This is one reason it seemed obvious that projects like the Keystone Pipeline were a far better solution to move such highly inflammable material safely. While there is probably no way to completely eliminate the risk, a pipeline sure seems like a better option.
Now we have had that horrible train accident in East Palestine, Ohio. To me this looks like another Camp LeJeune case just waiting to develop. I personally expect liability claims from this incident to last years if not decades. If I lived near there, I would probably move, regardless of the personal expense. While staying there I would avoid being outdoors anywhere near the site and would probably only drink bottled water. But the real question is why this train was even allowed anywhere near this town. In this case the derailment appears to have been caused by an overheated bearing on an axle, but there are a lot of other things that could cause something similar. Trains can derail for a lot of reasons, including sabotage. If you have ever traveled any distance on a train, you quickly notice that they sway and bounce a lot. That is true even if the rails are relatively new and in good condition. One has to wonder how many railroad tracks in use today meet that standard.
I suspect this is going to be a major wakeup call for a lot of people. Perhaps it is time we all ask exactly what is traveling on those railroad tracks. Trains started operating in the mid-1800s, in some cases before the civil war. However, with the invention of the automobile, the interstate highway system, and the use of trucks to transport goods, in some cases rail lines were literally abandoned without sufficient consideration as to their value. For example, Los Angeles had a vast network of electric railway lines. There were over 1,000 miles of track. But these tracks were abandoned and destroyed, and the last segment of the system was abandoned in 1961. Now, even with a daily traffic nightmare, it would be impossible to rebuild that system any time soon.
In any event it is time for serious people to evaluate the risk vs reward particularly when considering the transport of hazardous materials. We’ve been warned, the question is will anyone listen.
One thing is certain, there is probably no one less qualified than Pete Buttigieg to lead the way forward. In addition, we need honest reporting from people totally unlike Jake Tapper, who asked the NTSB representative a question based on Democratic talking points and specifically Buttigieg’s failed attempt to blame this, predictably, on Donald Trump. He should have been public embarrassed at the response to his incredibly stupid question, but that would require him to have the ability to even recognize the error.
Yes, there are legitimate questions. A lot of people should be demanding answers. But to really fix this, if possible, this should involve the minimal number of elected public officials from either party.
One wonders if the Chinese don’t have the best solution, just transport everything by balloon. What could possibly go wrong.