News Release

Train Disaster: Causes and Solutions


MEL BUER, @mel_buer
Buer is an associate editor and labor reporter for the Real News Network and has been covering railways. Her pieces from last year include “Biden and Congressional Dems partner with GOP and corporate media to discipline railroad workers” and “Corporate billionaires are wrecking the supply chain. Just look at the railroads.”

She recently wrote “The Ohio Derailment Catastrophe Is a Case Study in Disaster Capitalism: Rail workers say the industry has long ignored pleas for better safety protocols” for The Nation.

She writes: “In the immediate aftermath of the derailment, rail officials ordered that the vinyl chloride hauled by five of the Norfolk Southern cars in the 150-car train be burned off to prevent a still greater explosion — but that action sent hydrogen chloride and phosgene, two dangerous gasses, spuming into the air. EPA investigators have since identified other hazardous chemicals the train had been hauling, including ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, isobutylene, and butyl acrylate. And the EPA has released a report saying that chemicals from the derailment have leached into the soil and water in the aftermath of the accident. …

“Rank-and-file workers organizing with Railroad Workers United (RWU) have waged high-profile pressure campaigns to improve rail safety and retain staffing. Jason Doering, an RWU organizer and a legislative representative of SMART Nevada, says that focusing industry and regulatory attention on the threat of derailments has been a continual challenge. Rail workers with Fight for Two Person Crews have been waging an allied campaign to lobby state and federal lawmakers to create and enforce standards for safer train staffing: a mandatory minimum of two person crews on freight trains. Last year, the Federal Railroad Administration proposed to reinstate a two-person crew rule and opened a public hearing in December 2022. During the public comment period for the rule change, more than 13,000 comments were logged in favor of it. …

“Ultimately, though, rail workers — who have been blocked by the Biden White House in seeking basic workplace guarantees such as sick leave — can’t be the only force holding rail carriers accountable in critical matters of public safety. The Department of Transportation — which has long treated rail carriers as clients rather than regulatory subjects — needs to meet the present public-safety crisis with more extensive and robust regulatory measures. ‘It’s more evident than ever that the DOT needs to act to increase the maintenance and inspection cycles for all of these cars on our tracks, and not just the hazmat, but all of them,’ Doering said.”

The group RootsAction just put out an action alert, calling on Biden to reverse Trump’s repeal of brake safety rules. The group also calls on Biden to “declare an emergency and thereby create a taskforce to address the disaster,” see “Ohio is facing a chemical disaster. Biden must declare a state of emergency” by Steven Donziger. RootsAction also notes: “Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg pretends that he cannot, but he can, and must, expand the definition of ‘high-hazard flammable trains’ to include all trains carrying compounds that can explode and poison the air, thereby giving local officials knowledge of what is in trains passing through.”