Playback speed
Share post
Share post at current time

An Incident

I live “on the tracks” — the mainline that runs from New England to Florida. Each day about 60 freight trains and 20-25 passenger trains go by. Approximately 5% of the freight train cars are chemical tank cars. (I took the above movie clip of a normal freight train a few years ago — it had nothing to do with the incident that is discussed in this post.)

The Incident

On March 25, 2023 at around 8:30 p.m., a freight train traveling south hit a vehicle that was crossing the tracks. Initial reports say that there were no injuries. Nevertheless, this incident provides process safety professionals with some useful lessons learned. They include,

  • Unreported events,

  • Eyewitness reports,

  • Process safety in the public space,

  • Emergency response access, and

  • Chemical tank cars.

We will discuss these lessons in a series of posts this week. Let’s start with the first one: Unreported Events.

Virtual Railfan

Train enthusiasts come from all over the country to watch trains transit our small town. Interest is so great that the organization Virtual Railfan installed cameras at one of our railroad crossings. (Here is a list of their camera installations.) This is the link to our local YouTube camera:

Their cameras operate 24 hours per day, so they have recorded some quite spectacular train-vehicle collisions in recent years.

Unreported Incidents

Since the Railfan cameras were installed, it seems as if there have been more collisions than there used to be. In fact, it is more likely that the number of collisions has remained about the same, but now they are being recorded, and — this is critically important — the public is learning about them and talking about them. (The recent accident is East Palestine, Ohio, has generated a considerable amount of discussion in our community.)

In the hour following last night’s crash there was considerable discussion at the Railfan site about what had happened, and what lessons could be learned. Here are some observations,

  • One member of the public was with the train conductor when she called 911. She gave us the facts on the ground, in real time. (That’s how we knew that there had been no injuries.)

  • The discussion included real-time participation from people in the U.K. and Russia. This was not just a local matter.

  • People were making sensible suggestions in real time for improving safety.

One has to wonder,

How many process safety incidents go unreported?

We will discuss other lessons learned from this event in upcoming posts.

Here is a picture I took a few years ago just a few yards south of the intersection you see in the video. This incident involved a passenger train. The driver of the car was slightly injured.

Credit: Ian Sutton

To receive new posts consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Net Zero by 2050
Net Zero by 2050
Ian Sutton