US rail explosion highlights security issues

A BIG explosion in Arkansas at the weekend when a railway wagon carrying propylene gas was hit by another freight train has focused attention on the security of Union Pacific, one of the largest rail corporations in the United States.
US rail explosion highlights security issues US rail explosion highlights security issues US rail explosion highlights security issues US rail explosion highlights security issues US rail explosion highlights security issues

Courtesy Union Pacific.

Staff Reporter

Union Pacific transports coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and coal fields in Illinois, Colorado and Utah and moves more than 250 million tons of coal annually.

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) president Don Hahs, who represents a group of Union Pacific locomotive engineers, said his members had claimed time and again that rail corporations don't take the security of their equipment or the safety of their employees seriously.

Hahs said rail employees had very little, if any, training in the handling of hazardous materials, such as the propylene in the Arkansas accident.

Further, he said, the practice of leaving rail engines and other machinery unlocked was common.

"An accident such as this will certainly have our full attention so that the facts can be found and solutions can be implemented in order to avoid future accidents," Hahs said.

A report by BLET’s parent group, Teamsters Rail Conference, concluded recently that the nation's rail system was vulnerable to terrorist attack and that rail corporations had not taken the safety of their employees or the public seriously.

Titled High Alert: Workers Warn of Security Gaps on Nation's Railroads, the report last month detailed survey responses from more than 4000 rail employees nationwide.

A week after its release, the Government Accountability Office released its own report on rail security.

Senator Olympia Snowe said in that report that the Transportation Security Administration was not involving industry stakeholders in their rail security assessments, which had led to an incomplete plan that was well behind schedule.

“We are in a situation where our individual rail services across the country have no clear understanding of what the best means are of securing their rail systems," Snowe said.

The Teamsters Rail Conference represents more than 70,000 rail employees in the US including members of the BLET and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees.

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