News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Graniteville train wreck could happen in Decatur

The train accident that wreaked death and turmoil in Graniteville, S.C., could just as easily happen in Decatur.

The South Carolina train ran into a parked train car last week. Only one of three chlorine tankers ruptured, but that was enough to kill nine people and injure 250. The yellow-green gas spread its shadow over cars, homes and a nearby textile mill.

The accident apparently resulted when a train employee forgot to switch the rails back after parking the train car.

In July, shortly after two derailments on CSX track — one in Decatur and the other in Limestone County — THE DAILY surveyed train traffic and the tracks upon which that traffic depends. The results of that survey were frightening.

First of all, the danger is real. Trains routinely pull tankers loaded with chlorine and another killer, anhydrous ammonia. In the Decatur derailment, three of the cars contained toxic gases. In 2003 alone, CSX shipped 513,622 tankers of hazardous cargo.

Moreover, the CSX track goes through the middle of several areas with dense population, including Decatur, Hartselle and Athens.

Based upon population statistics and Emergency Management Agency data, THE DAILY calculated that a ruptured tanker could spread its gas cloud over 17,000 residents if it derailed in Decatur.

With this frightening backdrop comes more. Security was absent on long stretches of the track during THE DAILY's inspection, as were inspectors. Moreover, many of the railroad ties were rotten and loose, and the stone ballast was missing in many areas.

An expert interviewed by THE DAILY found portions of the track to be "seriously deficient." Poor maintenance of the ties and ballast, he said, could cause the track to buckle. Buckling means derailment, and it may well mean a toxic release.

The CSX response to the article was to accuse THE DAILY's reporter of trespassing.

Such a deadly accident could happen here. Now it is time for action.

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