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Toxic Targets

(Cincinnati television station WKRC posted the following article on its website on May 16.)

Local 12 has obtained an alert to law enforcement that shows terrorists, within the last few months, have been video taping European rail systems in what's called 'possible surveillance and pro-operational planning.' Terrorism experts agree, it's only a matter of time before Al Qaeda strikes again in the United States. In an exclusive and frightening investigation, Local 12's Rich Jaffe has found terrorism's most likely target is rolling through the Tri-State every day.

Cincinnati's Queensgate rail yard is Ohio's largest. Trains carrying hazardous material move through every day. Virtually every community in our area is within the kill zone of what could be terrorisms next target.

Fred Millar, Ph.D, Homeland Security Consultant: "Just one chlorine tank car, for example, can put out over your city a poison gas cloud forty miles long, and it can kill people 15 miles away from the point of release."

In 2004, a leak killed three and hurt 50 when this chlorine tanker derailed in San Antonio. Six months later, trains collided in South Carolina. A chlorine cloud poisoned hundreds of people and left 9 dead, including four firefighters.

"It's rewarding to be able to help people, but it's bad when there's incidents where you can't."

Fire Chief Phil Napier nearly paid the ultimate price, four of his men did.

Chief Phil Napier, Graniteville S.C. Fire Department: "And the gentleman says we've had a head on collision with the train, we've got a chemical leak, I can't breathe and he went down, at the same time when it hit me, I couldn't breathe, and all I remember from that point was it was like my life ended and I made a U-turn and I don't know where I went or how I got there."

In 2002, the FBI warned Al Qa'ida is targeting US railroads, setting cross hairs on bridges and hazardous materials cars. To date, federal and local officials have done little to prevent attacks. Trains carrying weapons of mass destruction like these chlorine tanks are within a half mile of downtown Cincinnati every day, and within four blocks of our nation's capitol.

Millar: "Cincinnati is a very important transportation hub, as well as one of the cities that has been designated by the Department of Homeland Security as a high threat city."

Experts say if terrorists blow up a tanker, one hundred people would die every second, one hundred thousand in fifteen minutes.

Milar: "The main problem is the American public is very deliberately being kept in the dark by the officials that know about this."

Last year, Cincinnati got a taste of what an event like this could be like when a misplaced train car carrying styrene leaked near Lunken Airport. 800 homes were evacuated for nearly a week. John Sears was trapped in a hospital bed near the leak for days.

John Sears, East End Resident: "It's bad, real bad."

DO YOU WORRY ABOUT WHAT COULD COME DOWN THE TRACKS?

"Oh, yeah, I mean like them tankers sitting up here now. You don't know what's in them, they don't tell you, they don't warn you, so it could be anything, anything."

Experts, residents and some railroad officials will tell you that tight security in places like this is the exception, not the norm. We're in the same area where Cincinnati's east side saw their styrene leak last year and we were able to walk right up to this tank car that is clearly labeled as carrying hazardous material.

"Anyone has access to them anytime 24/7."

DOES THAT WORRY YOU?

"Sure, it should, it should worry everybody."

Brent Kiser is a hazardous materials inspector for Ohio.

Brent Kiser, PUCO Haz Mat Inspector: "Pretty much this is what you'll see, it's wide open, no fences no gates, no security, it's wide open."

I'M LOOKING AT THESE TANK CARS, AND I CAN SEE THE GRAFFITI RIGHT HERE AND THAT CLEARLY SAYS SOMEBODY'S BEEN ABLE TO GET UP HERE AND TAG THE CARS. FORGIVE ME, IF I'M WRONG, BUT IF I CAN PUT GRAFFITI ON THAT I COULD DO SOMETHING ELSE TO THAT TANK REGARDLESS OF WHAT IT'S CARRYING.

"Absolutely."

Railroads tell a different story.

Gary Sease, CSX Railway Spokeman: "We have put into a very detailed inventory all of our rail yards, fueling facilities, we keep extremely good track of hazardous materials, inch by inch as they go from point 'A' to point 'B' and to the very best extent possible we secure and make safe as possible those shipments of hazardous materials."

With only about 80 accidents a year, railroad officials say they do the best they can to meet current regulations and satisfy regional concerns. Covington officials disagree, after 20 years fighting for more information and control over dangerous cargo.

Butch Callery, Mayor of Covington: "The railroads answer only to God, not to the government or anybody, so they have complete control over this and they've just got this cavalier attitude that nothings going to happen, but it could and there needs to be something done, I'd say yesterday."

Post 9/11, billions went to make air travel safer. Only a fraction of that was spent on rail security.

Millar: "If you see a chlorine tank car coming into your major target city, that means homeland security is a joke, that means it's not serious."

WHY ISN'T THERE SOMEBODY OUT HERE WHO SAYS THAT COULD BE DANGEROUS, WHY ISN'T THERE SECURITY IN A PLACE LIKE THIS?

Kiser: "Gee, I don't know, I wish I could answer that, my knee jerk reaction to that question would be it's money, it boils down to money. Everybody thinks of the cost of securing these tank cars second after safety."

Kiser wants HazMat tankers stored in guarded yards, while half a dozen cities, including Washington, are trying to force the railroads to reroute HazMat loads around population centers.

Millar: "If we don't reroute these cargoes, we are prepositioning them exactly where the terrorists would like to have them, right in the middle of our major target cities and that just puts in huge danger the American public who is kept in blissful ignorance of this."

Rich Jaffe, Local 12.

If what you just saw has you worried, you're not alone. Yesterday afternoon, we held a preliminary screening of our story for a group of local law makers, police and fire personnel. After watching the piece, the group talked openly about their concerns for their communities and what can be done to make all of us safer.

We'll bring you some of that discussion, as well as a look at who's going to try and make you safer... coming up at 6:00 a.m. on Good Morning Cincinnati.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

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