Editorial Roundup: Congress needs to tighten rules on trains carrying hazardous materials

Published 8:50 pm Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Through much of the country’s history, trains have been an efficient way to transport all manner of cargo. Trains replace an untold number of semi trucks that would otherwise be traveling the roads carrying the same cargo.

But as recent high profile accidents have made clear, rail travel can be dangerous.

Last week a train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in Raymond, southwest of Willmar. It occurred in the wake of a major fiery train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, when a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed, sending contaminants into the air and potentially water supplies.

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While accidents involving toxic chemicals are relatively rare, the need for a thorough review of rules and regulations is justified, especially as the amount of hazardous rail traffic is expected to increase.

Amy Koch, a former Republican state senator who served as majority leader, has also raised concerns about the potential for more serious accidents in a recently published opinion piece.

Koch said the recently approved $30 billion merger between Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railways will mean an increase in the number and size of trains, including in Minnesota, carrying hazardous loads.

Koch called on the Surface Transportation Board and Biden administration to review regulations regarding the shipment of hazardous materials.

While accidents involving toxic chemicals are uncommon, there are too many derailments, most of which gain little attention. Since the start of this year there have been more than a dozen rail accidents reported in the United States.

Derailments are often tied to equipment failure, track defects and human error.

Federal regulators and members of Congress have begun to take the problem more seriously, urging railroads to do more to prevent derailments. That includes more trackside detectors that help identify equipment problems, more notice to states about hazardous chemicals they are hauling, and having at least two people at the helm of freight trains.

Railroads say they will do more, but the rail industry has a history of fighting increased regulation.

Congress needs to do more to assure the public that trains carrying hazardous materials across state lines are doing it safely. Leaving it up to the rail industry to voluntarily do what’s needed won’t work.

— Mankato Free Press, April 4

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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