On July 6, 2013, a runaway oil-tanker of 72 cars went along a seven mile stretch before derailing in the town of Lac Megantic, Quebec. The pileup ignited the oil, engulfing the small town in flames and killed 47 people.
After hearing of such nightmarish events, the Obama administration brought forth a rule in 2016 that would require at least two crew members aboard all trains, passenger and freight.
But now, the rule is among dozens shelved by the Trump administration, caught in "limbo."
"Two-man crews make the workforce safer by creating a system of checks as multi-ton trains are moved in and out of rail yards and across the continent," Rep. Paul Tonko says. "I urge the Trump administration to recognize the important role that the federal government has to play in achieving these simple, common-sense protections to keep our workforce and surrounding communities like Albany safe."
A crash in Casselton, ND illustrated how multi-person crews could prevent a incident from getting worse. An eastbound BNSF train hauling oil-tanker cars collided with a westbound BNSF train carrying grain that had derailed.
Some of the oil cars exploded but the grain train's crew of three managed to uncouple about 70 of the 104 oil cars, averting what could have been greater devastation.
While some representatives see this rule as increasing transportation costs, proponents of the rule see the industry as wrongly putting dollar signs above crew safety.
"There is nothing wrong when earning profits," John Toman, an officer with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen says. "However, when profits are not earned but only gained at the safety expense of crew members and the general public, we must be smarter."
"For railroads, it's all about speed," Justin Mikulka, a veteran train-safety advocate says. "You run trains as fast as you can; time is money. Speed and safety don't exactly go hand in hand."
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Photo: Paul Chiasson