Is railroad on track with safety?

Train derailment in Silsbee has City's emergency workers posing questions

(From the Hardin County News - Wednesday, March 28, 2001)
SILSBEE - A train derailment this past Friday at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe yard in Silsbee has City emergency workers second guessing whether railroad officials are notifying local authorities of hazardous situations in a timely manner.

According to Silsbee Volunteer Fire Chief Billy Slaydon, the recent derailment involved tankers containing Ethylene Oxide, a chemical which poses health hazards as well as the possibility of an explosion. Jerry Jenkins, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Regional director of Public Affairs, said the derailment occurred at 12:30 a.m. Friday, involving three rail cars which left the tracks. One of those tankers overturned on its side.

The overturned tanker car was double lined for transporting the hazardous material, and the interlining was not leaking after the derailment, Jenkins said.

"After the derailment, we had a specialist identify that the tank was not leaking and determined that the derailment did not pose a threat to the community," he said.

"If there was a spill we would notify local authorities immediately of the problem." Jenkins said after the railroad tanker was turned back over, an environmental specialist determined the chemical would have to be transferred to another holding tank, and the proper authorities were notified of the possible dangers.

According to a Silsbee Police dispatcher, however, railroad officials notified the police department of the derailment Friday at approximately 7:30 a.m., but did not say that the rail cars were loaded with hazardous material.

The fire department wasn't notified of the derailment until 12 hours later that day when news of it came from the Huntsman Emergency Response Team, who supervised the transfer of the chemical from the damaged tanker cars.

According to Silsbee Fire Marshal James Payne, railroad personnel should have notified the City's firefighters immediately of the derailment, because of the possible hazards to the community. Jenkins said that in the past there have been situations where evacuations were ordered when they weren't necessary, and railroad officials did not think that an evacuation was necessary in this case. But Payne argues that when the tanker cars were being put back on the tracks, an evacuation of residents would have made certain that there were no innocent lives in danger if a problem arose from the dangerous chemical.

"I would rather have too much response rather than having several people killed because the adequate measures were not taken to safeguard the public," Payne said.

According to Hardin County Emergency Management Director Joe Blackmon, the train derailment did pose a safety threat to nearby residents.

"I think that the railroad should have let people know what was happening. People have the right to know what is going on in their own community and possible dangers that might arise," Blackmon said.

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