New Investigative Report Documents Nation’s Neglected Rail Infrastructure
Waterkeepers from across the country identify significant areas of concern with 114 railway bridges along known and potential routes of explosive oil trains
NEW YORK, NY AND SAN FRANCISCO, CA – November 10, 2015 –Waterkeeper Alliance, ForestEthics and a national network of Waterkeeper organizations today in releasing a new investigative report Deadly Crossings exploring the condition of our nation’s rail infrastructure. From July – September 2015, Waterkeepers from across the country documented the structural integrity of 250 railway bridges along known and potential routes of explosive oil trains, capturing the state of this often neglected infrastructure in their communities.
The Waterkeepers identified areas of concern with 114 bridges, nearly half of those observed. Photos and video footage of the bridges inspected show signs of significant stress and decay, such as rotted, cracked, or crumbling foundations, and loose or broken beams. Waterkeepers were also present when crude oil unit trains passed and observed flexing, slumping and vibrations that crumbled concrete. Upper James Riverkeeper Pat Calvert made several reports, including a narrow rail bridge located immediately upstream of the Richmond City drinking water intake facility that provides water to approximately half a million people has significant cracking and steel braces on the foundation that appear to be a makeshift repair.
This effort was initiated out of concern for the threat posed by the 5,000 percent increase in oil train traffic since 2008. Oil train traffic increases both the strain on rail infrastructure, as well as the likelihood of a rail bridge defect leading to an oil train disaster resulting in oil spills, fires and explosions. On April 30, 2014, an oil train derailed and exploded in downtown Lynchburg. “This report and train derailments like the one in Lynchburg is a stark reminder that we need a national discussion about the safety and regulatory oversight of the transportation of hazardous materials through populated areas and sensitive environmental areas, especially along rivers that supply drinking water to cities such as Richmond,” said Betsy Nicholas Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake.
A review of safety standards for rail bridges revealed that the federal government cedes authority and oversight of inspections and repairs to railway bridge owners. Overly broad federal law, lax regulations, dangerously inadequate inspections and oversight, and a lack of authority compound the threat from oil trains. The 2008 federal law and subsequent DOT standards regulating safety of rail bridges leaves responsibility for determining load limits, safety inspections, and maintenance with rail bridge owners.
The groups are calling for immediate, decisive action by the federal government on this issue. “What the Waterkeepers have captured shines a light on the need for immediate, independent inspections of all rail bridges that carry explosive oil trains,” said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “People deserve to know the state of this infrastructure and the risks posed by oil trains rolling through their communities.”
ForestEthics has calculated that oil trains directly threaten the life and safety of 25 million Americans living inside the blast zone, which is the one mile evacuation zone in the case of an oil train fire. The drinking water supplies for tens of millions more are also at risk. This report attempts to alert communities about this risk, and calls for nationwide action and reform of rail safety standards.
TAKE ACTION! Stop the Transport of Explosive Oil Over Neglected Rail Bridges