The Problem With Trains-A Leaders Guide To Efficiency And Safety

Rod Deluhery

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OP911. NET takes a look at the many security issues of trains. What is seductive and romantic, economically important, operates on union rules and is hated by most car drivers? Yes, that would be the modern train. Whether carrying Amtrak passengers along the Pacific coast for a romantic getaway, or hauling enough coal to power a city for a week, trains are one of the biggest problems when it comes to security. What are the problems with trains? Well let’s just say many believe it is just a matter of time before we have a hijacking or theft of train cargo. Trains have been robbed ever since there was valuable cargo being carried, and it would be nothing new. But there is more than money and people on modern trains these days. There is enough chemicals on many loads to suffocate hundreds, there could be nuclear materials or even commercial biological agents that could cause ecosystem damage to native plants or animals. Before we go too deep, let us go through the list of some of the major security problems.

1. Most passenger trains, like Amtrak in the United States, do not x-ray luggage or do any of the cursory checks for chemicals or bombs that are done at airports. Usually nowhere is the security for trains as good as an airport boarding procedure.

2. The amount of security officials working only on the train system is abysmally low. We are talking 1 security official for 8000 miles of track.

3. Train tracks run near airports, schools, large private business, highways, telecommunications lines, and near water and electricity sources. Anywhere a train track runs, it carries a potential for disaster.

4. Trains are absolutely necessary. In some places they carry fuel to power plants, in other states they move all the grain out to be sold. Trains are essential to the economy and any downtime of the system must be handled and mitigated with proper planning. Many state and local government do not have adequate plans for handling train catastrophes.

We will break up these problems into two groups, one for private business and another for people responsible in the government field. Keep in mind government role is to keep the citizen safe AND allow business to operate. Private business is mostly concerned about keeping their business operating.

First, the private business guide to train safety. Here are some questions that might need to be considered.

What can you do to keep your business running safely? First, do you use trains to move cargo? If so, are there other methods to move the cargo if a train route was no longer available? Do you insure any of the cargo, and if so, how do you quantify what cargo is more valuable, or what train routes are more likely to be delayed?

Does a train go near your business? If so, have you incorporated train accidents into your emergency plans? Could more train traffic effect your business? Could more trains and tracks make your business more efficient and safe, and if so, how could you influence government to build more trains?

Here are some questions for those in the government field. Food for thought as you keep the safety of your citizens in mind.

What do you know about the trains in your city or state? What are the most dangerous loads that they handle, and does the train operate those routes during the safest times?

Many train tracks are being de-commissioned or converted to trail use. We all love trails and hiking, and the conversion of “rail to trails" is a great thing. But could that old train track be a better route for moving the 40,000 tons of chlorine to the next city?

What laws, if any do you have in your city or town considering trains? What happens if a train stops on the tracks and can not move, disrupting traffic. In spring of 2006 a train became stuck in Riverside, California and disrupted traffic for 16 hours on a Friday afternoon. The stopped train could have easily caused problems for law enforcement or fire departments to arrive at a fire or emergency. Some cities have fines if trains block traffic for more than one hour.

What infrastructure would be damaged if a train suddenly derailed and took out a small neighborhood? Map out every train and what services run near it. Often fiber optic cables run next to train tracks. These may easily become broken during a train derailment, and that means suddenly your town may be out of communication. Also water, gas, and electricity often run across train bridges. So a train bridge collapse means the towns people have no water or electricity to pump water. How would that situation be handled?

Train tracks are used for moving people into and out of cities. Commuter trains are growing in popularity. What are the plans for the continued growth of commuter and cargo trains? Can they continue to use the same routes, even as more people and more dangerous cargo are used on the same tracks?

We hope leaders jot down some of these issues and take the time to answer the questions, put them on the meeting agenda or refresh their plans. Trains are too important for the economy and must be kept safe.

Copyright 2006, R. Deluhery
“Technology in emergency operations"


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