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Terror trains

(Toledo television station WTVG posted the following article on its website on November 3. Tim Hanely is the BLET’s Ohio State Legislative Board Chairman. Bob Hagan is an Ohio State Senator and a member of BLET Division 757 in New Castle, Pa. John Bentley is the BLET’s Editor.)

TOLEDO, Ohio -- Phil Cervantas heads up Toledo fire department's haz mat team. He told us, "If we had a major leak, where thousands of people had the potential to be affected, could we prevent that release from occurring? Probably not. It would probably be something on a catastrophic level."

Tim Hanely, of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters says, "In a 24-hour period, we're talking probably between 300 and 500 hazardous material cars rolling through Toledo Acid, chlorine are just some of the products we carry. And all of them if mixed together through a leak could be catastrophic." The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory estimates "if the wind is in the right direction" 100,000 people could die from a toxic cloud. That would be one-third of Toledo's population wiped out in minutes.

A January 2005 accident in Graniteville, South Carolina offers a glimpse into the danger of toxic trains. In the early dawn hours, a derailment leaked 120,000 pounds of chlorine into the air, forcing residents of the small town to evacuate for days. Five hundred people were hurt; nine died. Attention is now turning to security on the nation's rail lines.

The federal government mandates rail companies ship hazardous materials. An industry spokesperson tells 13 abc that rail is one of the safest modes of transportation. Peggy Wilhide Nasir of the Association of American Railroads says, "We are 99.999 percent safe when it comes to shipping hazardous materials." Employees are trained in security. Nasir told us, "I think we are working very hard to make sure our employees are aware of all of the security dangers and to be aware and to report things when they see it. And that's important, when people go into the rail yards that they report that. They don't just leave these rail yards open and accessible to everyone." In 2002, the FBI sent out an alert warning al Qaida may be setting sights on our nation's railways.

And it's not just the rail yards that can be vulunerable. Trains often sit idle on tracks with no security in sight. Our cameras show graffitti painted on the side of rail cars, a clear indication of security gaps. And most tracks are open, allowing the public to walk right through. Rail labor spokesperson John Bentley said, "Here we are next to railroad tracks outside a chemical plant and we've been here for 20 minutes and nobody has said anything to us. No one has approached us. There's no security what so ever. These homes, this would be ground zero for a chemical spill or any kind of hazmat release and these people would virtually have no chance to escape." We talked to a railroad employee who did not want to be identified. He said. "There's got to be more that can be done. There's got to be better lightning; there's got to be fences around yards, more eyes that can be put out there."

Senator Bob Hagen has recently introduced a bill here in Ohio to require rail owners to secure facilities. Other cities are considering measures that would force rail companies to re-route dangerous cargo around populated areas.

Monday, November 6, 2006

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