Normally a post-peak commuter, I had to rush out and get on the train at dawn this morning so I could be seated with my laptop and phone in time to participate in a Federal Railroad Administration call-in press conference at 7:30 a.m., Pacific time.
I was sure I was the only participant actually riding the rails for this, the announcement of a partnership to develop a more crash-worthy chemical rail tanker. The partners included Dow Chemical, Union Pacific Railroad and Union Tank Car Company (no relation), which makes and leases tankers.
After all the introductions were made, FRA Administrator Joseph Boardman noted that some of the chemical tankers in question had derailed in Kentucky this morning. I took a long, deep breath.
It wasn’t until later, when I summoned all the wireless capability I had handy, that I found out some of the details:
- The wreck, in the southern suburbs of Louisville, happened about 20 minutes before I smacked down my alarm clock this morning. Gotta remember to rig the clock radio to play news.
- The derailment set several chemical cars ablaze. Authorities say a chemical called cyclohexane is what’s burning, and other chemicals such as butadiene and highly explosive propane are among the chemicals the train was hauling.
- Authorities evacuated a mile radius around the site, closed 20 miles of Interstate 65 and rerouted air traffic because of danger of toxic fumes, explosion and smoke.
- As of this writing, authorities announced they would allow the thing to burn itself out.
FRA Administrator Joseph H. Boardman said it was “certainly very discouraging” that the accident happened this morning. “It certainly dampens some excitement that you have when you think you’ve got a breakthrough,” such as the partnership to build a sturdier tank car.
So, there it is. The need for safer tanker cars, in living color. Think about that next time you’re on a commuter train passing all of those rows of tankers parked on the next track.