Railroads move America’s energy safely and efficiently | Don Brunell

For activists intent on stopping all use of fossil fuel, train safety has become their cause du jour. After all, if you can block transport of fossil fuels, you can choke off their use.

For activists intent on stopping all use of fossil fuel, train safety has become their cause du jour. After all, if you can block transport of fossil fuels, you can choke off their use.

If they succeed, it’s not clear how we will heat and light our homes and schools, get to work, run businesses, keep the hospitals operating, stock grocery stores or harvest crops — but apparently, that’s an inconvenient question for another day.

America’s rail system has undergone a transformation over the last 40 years.

In 1970, the once grand railroads of the northeast were dilapidated; the iconic Penn Central railroad was in collapse. The PC was losing over $1 million a day; poorly trained dispatchers literally lost trains throughout the system.

When the flow of red ink became a flood, managers started deferring maintenance; derailments became the norm. To reduce accidents, speeds on large sections of track were reduced to 10 mph. Freight traffic slowed to a crawl. It was the low point of the American rail system.

Today, the picture is very different.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. trains carried goods and people more than 740 million miles last year. Rail has once again become a major commuter option, logging more than 20.5 billion passenger miles in 2012.

As technology and oversight have improved, the railroads have amassed a good safety record, even as rail traffic has increased.

The FRA reports that in 2012 there was one derailment for every 582,167 miles traveled, one fatality per 82 million miles, and 2.65 accidents at rail crossings for every million miles traveled.

Our state Department of Transportation notes, “Rail is a safe and efficient way to move both people and goods. Freight trains reduce the number of large trucks on our congested highways, and for passengers, it is more than 23 times safer than traveling by car.”

Why are these statistics important? Rail traffic plays a major role in trade, and trade plays a major role in Washington’s economy. Per capita, we are the nation’s top exporter.

The potential is even greater today because Montana and Wyoming coal, which is cleaner than many other varieties produced around the world, is in demand.

Exporting coal from Washington and Oregon would add more than 11,000 new jobs and $115 million in payroll. Just one oil terminal in Vancouver could generate up to 250 construction jobs and up to 120 permanent full-time positions, primarily from the local community.

The bottom line is, if we don’t build the shipping terminals here, the trains will simply go through Washington to Canadian ports, taking the jobs with them.

To enhance safety, railroads have invested heavily in technologies that provide advance notice of potential problems. Some of these technologies include wheel impact detectors, wheel journal detectors and detector cars that X-ray the rails for metal defects. These and other technologies have significantly reduced derailments over the past 20 years.

The Association of American Railroads reports that, in 2012, 99.9977 percent of all rail-shipped hazardous materials, including oil, reached their destination without an accident-related spill — and that railroads spill less liquid hazmat product than trucks or pipelines.

Multiple federal agencies regulate the movement of hazardous materials by rail, including the Federal Railroad Administration, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Transportation Security Administration. The federal government also requires railroads to route hazardous materials on lines posing the least safety and security risk.

Will all this guarantee that there will never be an accident? Of course not.

But it’s important to keep things in perspective so we can make informed judgments about issues that are important to us all.

 


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@courierherald.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.courierherald.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 500 words or less.

More in Business

Stock photo
Grocery store workers have right to wear Black Lives Matter buttons

National Labor Relations Board ruling against ban by Kroger-owned QFC, Fred Meyer

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Bush’s 9/11 epilogue needs to be America’s prologue

We needed a reminder of the way our country came together after 9/11. We got it from George W. Bush.

Carolynn Bernard, owner and operator of Bless Ewe Sheep Company pets one of the sheep on her farm in Enumclaw on Aug. 17, 2021. Photo by Henry Stewart-Wood/Sound Publishing
COVID, droughts put local sheep sanctuary in jeopardy

Owner Carolynn Bernard took to GoFundMe in hopes of raising money to make it through the winter.

Don Brunell
Recycling batteries key to protecting our planet

Americans already toss about 180,000 tons per year, and electric cars are just hitting the scene.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Stop, Rethink State’s Long Term Care Law | Brunell

People need long term care. But the Washington Cares Act might not be the best answer.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Japan’s hydrogen pilot may work in Washington

The Evergreen state already excels at using renewable energy. What if we added hydrogen to the mix?

A Darigold dairy worker practices picketing as a strike is approved by the union. Photo courtesy of Julia Issa
Puget Sound Darigold workers on verge of strike amid contract negotiations

Workers cite lack of medical leave, outsourcing and bad-faith negotiations as reason for strike.

Don Brunell
Massive reforestation effort needed

Forestry effort would control future wildfires, create jobs and help fight climate change

Don Brunell
Don Brunell
Bumper car therapy | Brunell

The joy of bumping around in the small electric vehicles could mean more than family fun

Don Brunell
Power of Our Interconnected Grid with Ample Supply | Brunell

Cheers to the Pacific Northwest power grid for weathering our recent heat wave

Don Brunell
Family Tree Farms Key to Cutting Greenhouse Gases | Brunell

Small-time tree farmers are the unsung heroes of our healthy forests

Dave and Buster's restaurant and entertainment venue looks to hire 130 people to staff its Bellevue venue, set to open in August. Photo courtesy Dave and Busters.
Dave and Buster’s hiring 130 for August opening in Bellevue

Dave and Buster’s restaurant and entertainment venue opens in downtown Bellevue on… Continue reading