The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is conducting a Rail Needs Assessment (https://www.illinoisrailneeds.org) throughout Illinois. This is an opportunity for you to express your ideas for improving the rail network and concerns regarding rail impacts on our local communities. The study comes at the heels of a recent merger between Kansas City Southern (KCS) and Canadian National (CN). The railroad would manage a 20,000-mile network in Canada, Mexico and the United States, increasing rail traffic through our communities and putting our schools, parks, and other public locations at greater risk.
Although future impacts are minimized by the rail industry, the Daily Herald reports, “In 2008, the [Surface Transportation Board] STB approved a controversial merger between CN and the smaller Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway, which runs through the north, west, and south suburbs, multiplying trains on those tracks when Canadian National took possession. Now there are fears of a repeat with KCS, a major freight carrier that extends into Mexico.” Gilbert Carette from Lac-Mégantic’s Citizens’ Coalition for Railroad Safety warns, “Every time you see 16 of these long black tankers, this is the amount of energy equivalent to the Hiroshima atomic bomb dropped on Japanese citizens in 1945.”
The study is scheduled to be completed in January 2022, and comments must be submitted no later than June 14th.
Below is public comment that you may use to cut and paste directly or modify to fit your own perspective.
I’m writing in opposition to the transport of hazardous materials through our communities. We should be working to decrease this transport, and we should work in opposition to any and all increased capacity. The rail industry has not proven to be a good neighbor – Lac-Mégantic is a case in point. It’s been eight years since this community lost 47 loved ones, including young children, and citizens who were traumatized by this event still have to do their own rail safety checks – daily. Residents were promised that the corridor would be moved to circumvent their village, yet this has not been done to date – nor has the now leveled city center of Lac-Mégantic been rebuilt.
The rail industry, time and time again, prioritizes profits over safety, and the Trump administration either eliminated or delayed many of the Obama era safety regulations, leaving the rail industry to simply regulate itself. The rail industry doesn’t carry adequate insurance, and below is a laundry list of needed regulations, including:
- A federal bill similar to IL SR0982 Hazardous Material Near School, requiring the inclusion of school personnel in comprehensive emergency response plans (CERPs) specific to the transport and storage of hazardous materials and the dissemination of this information to the parents of students, faculty, and staff.
- Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) braking systems
- Positive Train Control (PTC)
- Reduced weight limits
- Train size limits
- Requirement for industry to weigh individual rail cars transporting crude oil
- Requirement for tracks and bridges to be rated in accordance with the loads carried (must accommodate heavier 286,000-lbs. tank cars)
- Use of pressure cars and/or tank cars built with thermal “blanket” and stronger protective housing around pressure relief valves
- Reduced and enforced speed limits (20 mph or less near schools and in densely populated areas)
- Improved track and bridge regulation and maintenance standards (Track problems were blamed in 59% of crashes)
- Reduced Reid vapor pressure (6-8 psi)
- Requirement that trains be parked outside of residential communities (minimum 1-mile distance)
- Legislation targeting industry accountability (corporate executives rather than engineers and railroad workers)
- Improved railroad employee working conditions (decreased hours, minimum 2-man crews)
- The banning of engineer-free automatic, robotically operated freight trains.
- Air quality monitoring in areas such as holding tracks where trains are left unattended with engines running and high capacity areas.
- Training standards for emergency personnel and first responders specific to HHFTs
- Mandated access to water and foam along rail corridors in populated areas
- Requirement for States to develop and implement publicly transparent Comprehensive Emergency Response Plans, including an Incident Command System for essential communication, specific to HHFTs.
- Comprehensive Oil Spill Response Plans with Financial Assurances (Petroleum Storage Surety Bill (A.7625/S.5751-A): Insurance Coverage)
- Legislation mandating that Congress have its own staff dedicated to reviewing regulatory legislation and regulations (OIRA is not sufficient to ensure that regulations are accountable to American citizens).
- Mandatory industry funded Environmental Impairment Liability Insurance
- Long-term plan and budget for phase-out of fossil fuels
In addition, Congress needs to pass existing legislation left sitting in committee:
- US Senate Bill 1979 Safe Freight Act of 2019 prohibits the operation of a freight train or light locomotive engine used in the movement of freight unless it has a crew of at least two individuals (introduced).
- US House Resolution 1748 Safe Freight Act of 2019 co-sponsored by US Congressman Brad Schneider provides for the minimum size (2) of crews of freight trains (introduced).
- US House Resolution 5553 Crude By Rail Volatility Standards Act prohibits transportation by rail of crude oil with a Reid vapor pressure of more than 9.5 pounds per square inch (introduced).
The bottom line is that the industry chooses to keep their profits (revenue generated, in large part, from the investment of public tax dollars) rather than fund much needed upgrades that could improve safety and save lives. Of course, even if the rail industry was diligent in meeting much needed safety standards, the transport of hazardous materials, including that of Bakken crude oil, anhydrous ammonia, chlorine gas, and etc., will never be safe.
Approximately 14,800 U.S. schools and their 5.7 million students are within the Oil Train Blast Zone. Chicago is one of the top five U.S. cities having school children at risk from oil train derailments and explosions. We, as adults, have a moral responsibility to keep our children safe, and children attending schools within a 1-mile distance from a rail corridor are not safe.
Perhaps the rail industry hasn’t learned any of the lessons from the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, but the public has. We remember the lives lost in Lac-Mégantic.