Prior to the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 and subsequent development of the country's extensive interstate and freeway system, Americans relied much more heavily on trains for the transport of people and goods alike. Today, while, in much of the U.S., travel via rail has been replaced by personal vehicles, the Northeastern U.S. remains a hub for travel by rail with several trains running daily between the major metropolitan cities of Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Washington D.C.
Additionally, on a daily basis, several freight trains pass through and deliver goods-which increasingly include oil and other fuel sources-to the region. Last week's derailment of a Norfolk Southern train is just the most recent in a string of train derailments and accidents that have raised safety and environmental concerns throughout the country.
On March 2, the 16-car train derailment occurred near Ripley, N.Y. After it was discovered that two of the cars were leaking ethanol fuel, emergency officials responding to the derailment were forced to evacuate residents from 50 homes in the area. While thankfully, there were no reports of injuries and officials were able to contain the leak, this most-recent derailment is just the latest in a growing number that has occurred in recent years.
According to the Department of Transportation, during 2015 alone, Norfolk Southern was involved in a staggering 608 derailments. This figure, however, represents only 11 percent of the total number of train derailments that occurred last year.
From explosions caused by leaking fuel to the contamination of area soil that results from hazardous waste spills, freight trains pose numerous safety risks to residents who live near train tracks as well as to the first responders who risk their lives to put out and clean up derailment-related fires and hazardous spills. Additionally, freight train crossings are notoriously dangerous and, during 2014 alone, were the sites of nearly 2,300 collisions and the deaths and injuries of more than 1,100 people throughout the U.S.