Jan 24, 2005
On January 7th, a railroad crash in South Carolina left nine people dead and sent dozens to the hospital after chlorine fumes leaked from a tank car in the train. More than five thousand people in the surrounding area had to be evacuated from homes, businesses and schools.
It's not the first train crash involving chlorine. Last summer, another ruptured tank car carrying chlorine killed three people in a Texas train crash.
Chlorine is a deadly chemical used to treat water – made more dangerous by the way it is transported. Half of all railroad tank cars in use today were built before 1989 when new regulations required reinforced steel. Some 30,000 tankers have not been rebuilt. And no government agency or locality forces the chemical corporations and the transportation companies that own these tank cars to spend the money to bring them up to safety standards.
But the regulations themselves are no protection against accidents. This new leak of chlorine came from a tank car built in 1993, after the new regulations were put into effect.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating this accident, is trying to shift the focus of responsibility – saying it wants to question a rail worker about a switch left open. This action might have allowed the train carrying chlorine to crash into a stationary train on a siding, according to newspaper accounts.
Maybe so. But everyone ignores the real question that should be put to the railroads themselves – why have they cut staffing to the bone, which can only lead to "accidents?" Like hospitals and schools, railroads provide a service in carrying freight all over the country. But they are run as an industry for profit. And management always tries to increase profits by making fewer employees do more work.
Shoddy equipment, deadly substances and exhausted workers make more deadly accidents inevitable.