PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Rail car brakes scream across the Conway Rail Yards as tankers loaded with hazardous chemicals roll to join the trains that will carry them to points unknown west.
Meanwhile, a Norfolk Southern crew heads east toward Pittsburgh as a visually endless caterpillar of flammable placarded tankers follow obediently.
One of the trains and many like it rumble through our region every hour and we don’t give it a thought until something goes wrong.
The worst case by far was in April 1987, during the Bloomfield derailment and fire, including a car loaded with phosphorous oxychloride that prompted the evacuation of 16,000 for almost 24 hours. Fortunately there were only 14 people treated for breathing issues.
What Hollywood portrayed on the big screen in “Unstoppable” became Canada’s real life nightmare recently.
In Canada, they have not been so lucky – five are known dead and 40 still remain missing in the inferno.
Pittsburgh’s first responders wish they could say we are immune to a similar fate.
“As it stands right now, they have rails and they put product on them and they move cars through town,” said Pittsburgh Emergency Management Deputy Director Ray Demichiei.
Demichiei says the city tried desperately after Bloomfield to get some handle on the hazards cargo, only to find out:
“We can’t regulate them,” Demichiei said. “They are a federal entity they are regulated solely by the Federal Railroad Agency they establish the rules.”
So 26 years later, little has changes, but Demichiei says there is comfort in knowing hazardous chemicals only roll on the best tracks, just like passenger trains.
“Passenger lines run from urban centers, so if you’re putting hazardous chemicals on those same tracks, you are running them through town,” Demichiei said.
And occasionally the result can be disastrous.
Despite what we’ve seen out of Canada, over the past 24 hours the experts say transporting hazardous chemicals in cars like the ones in Pittsburgh is still the safest way to get from point A to point B.