Editorial: Inaccurate train lists revealed to be dangerous

Published 9:35 am Friday, October 10, 2014

The Federal Railroad Administration’s self-stated mission “is to enable the safe, reliable, and efficient movement of people and goods for a strong America, now and in the future.”

While it’s no secret the Bakken oil boom, a surge of farm commodities and the usual rail traffic have tested that goal the past several years, a recent Minnesota Public Radio News report cast serious doubt about the safety aspect of the FRA’s pledge.

“Mystery trains: Crews, communities in the dark on chemical cargo” detailed how freight trains too often violate FRA regulations by moving cross-country without correctly documenting hazardous materials on board.

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From the report: “When federal inspectors checked manifests of all rail haulers in Minnesota over a three-year period, one in five contained inaccurate information about cars hauling hazardous materials, according to FRA records (from 2011 through 2013) and obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.”

That’s a potentially deadly problem because if trains get into accidents, first responders rely on those lists to determine how to respond. If they don’t know cars involved in an accident carry explosive or toxic materials, their lives and the lives of people in the vicinity could be in jeopardy.

Worse yet, the FRA appears reluctant to talk about current conditions and what is being done to resolve the problem. The agency refused to give MPR its latest audits of train lists, probably because MPR’s review of FRA records for 2011-13 showed a higher rate of violations than the FRA found in 2006.

Indeed, in 2007, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended requiring “that railroads immediately provide to emergency responders accurate, real-time information regarding the identity and location of all hazardous materials on a train.” Six years later, the FRA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reported working on changes. It’s now seven years later. Shouldn’t solutions be in place?

Please don’t misunderstand. The FRA is not to blame in creating these lists. That’s the responsibility of the rail companies and the staff they employ to compile trains.

However, it is the job of the FRA to hold companies accountable, especially when their inaccuracy combined with an accident could take the lives of innocent people.

— St. Cloud Times, Oct. 7

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