The Railroads' Burden

By Shuster, Bud | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 2, 2007 | Go to article overview
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The Railroads' Burden


Shuster, Bud, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Not many people realize that the nation's privately owned freight railroads are required by law to carry hazardous materials. Railroads would rather not carry hazardous material but railroads -- unlike other transportation businesses -- cannot refuse to ship even the most dangerous chemicals.

They would if they could.

Instead, each day, freight railroads shoulder the tremendous responsibility of moving hazardous material across this nation to serve areas such as Pittsburgh, which uses these chemicals to purify its water supply.

Rail is the safest way to transport hazardous materials, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Rail is 16 times safer than trucks for moving hazardous material, according to U.S. DOT statistics. About 99.997 percent of all rail-shipped hazmat is delivered safely, and since 1980, hazmat accident rates have declined by a whopping 86 percent.

The rail industry has been leading the way to find real solutions to security issues that have emerged since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. In fact, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (more recently the secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) credits the railroad industry as being the first private-sector industry to step up to the plate after 9/11 with meaningful security measures.

Immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, railroads adopted a comprehensive, risk-based security plan designed to prevent an attack from happening in the first place. This risk- based approach was designed by terrorism experts and takes into account terrorists' tactics and capabilities. Railroads have made more than 50 permanent changes in the way they do business to improve security; more than 100 additional actions have been taken at higher threat levels.

Recent stories in the Trib ("Terror on the Tracks," January 14 and 15) lead readers to believe that railroad security is lacking if a reporter can place a business card on a tank car. For that matter, a reporter could place a business card on any of America's commuter rail cars, buses or trucks carrying hazardous material. Does that mean we should put armed guards on every subway car, on every bus, or every place a truck stops and parks?

Of all transportation modes -- freight or passenger -- freight railroads are the least-inviting target, according to terrorism experts.

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