Railroad President's View: Rail remains safest way to ship materials — despite derailment
From the column: "We take our engagement with communities seriously to ensure the right people know what will be coming through towns in the unlikely event there is an accident."
Every hour of every day, the items we need to live our daily lives are being transported by our nation’s interconnected transportation system. Rails, roads, rivers, and runways are all used to haul just about everything we touch. In Illinois, we are uniquely positioned as the railroad hub of the nation, a point of pride that sets the foundation for the economic success of our state.
Whether it is delivering gas for your car, fertilizer for your farm, packages on your porch, or the food you will eat tonight, no doubt it has been moved as part of our rail network. Yes, this includes shipments of the many hazardous chemicals that go into making everyday products such as medicine and drinking water.
The train accident in Ohio was something no one wants to see — not the railroad industry, not government regulators, and most certainly not East Palestine residents. Our industry has long been committed to safely transporting goods through accident prevention, and we will continue to prioritize safety as we haul the products Americans depend on every day.
Safety is in the DNA of each member of our association. In fact, more than 99.9% of all hazardous material shipped by rail in the United States is done so without a release caused by a train accident. This safety record is the result of Class I railroads’ private investment of more than $250 billion since 2010 in our efforts to maintain and upgrade our rail and technology systems. Since 2000, these capital dollars have helped reduce rail accident rates by 28% nationwide. In short, rail continues to be the safest way to transport all materials.
Our nation’s Class I railroads underwrite a robust training system engaging emergency-services personnel across the country to respond with us when an accident does occur. We work directly with the Security and Emergency Response Training Center in Colorado to train first responders how to respond in case of a hazardous-material release. In addition, the AskRail app is a collaborative tool supported by Class I railroads, providing more than 35,000 first responders access to data regarding what type of product a railcar is carrying.
Our railroads also provide commodity flow data to emergency personnel so they are prepared for the products transported through their communities. No other mode of transportation invests these resources into safety and accident preparedness and response.
Our safety record is underscored by the fact that railroads are required by a federal common-carrier obligation to ship any commodity a business partner requests. Railroads are the only shipping mode with this requirement, and we take our engagement with communities seriously to ensure the right people know what will be coming through towns in the unlikely event there is an accident.
Railroads’ private investment in technology across the country allows them to gather tens of millions of safety data points daily. Whether it is a drone overhead, a laser- or ultrasound-monitoring rail alignment, wayside detectors sensing faulty wheels, or software and artificial intelligence predicting and preventing issues, today’s railroads are the most technologically advanced transportation systems in history.
Our commitment to safety includes the environment. There is no other land-transportation system more environmentally friendly than railroads. We can haul 1 ton of product nearly 500 miles on a single gallon of fuel.
The members of the Illinois Railroad Association, which include every Class I railroad, know that our mission is to deliver the products residents need. We do it safely and efficiently and in an environmentally sound way. We will continue to be the greatest investor of private funding in our nation’s transportation system and a leading innovator of technology. And we will always strive to keep our communities safe.
Tim Butler is president of the Illinois Railroad Association.