Thursday, November 9, 2023

Train derailment prompts safety concerns

The derailment of 14 cars in Romulus last week was a safety
concern to city first responders and officials.
There were no injuries reported in the incident. 
The cause of the train derailment in the city of Romulus prompted Mayor Robert A. McCraight, along with state and federal officials to call for increased enforcement of railway safety standards. The incident, which remains under investigation, prompted McCraight to issue a statement urging  stronger federal rules for railways. He said the federal government should have a stronger regard for the safety of local communities and strengthen railway safety rules. He added that local municipalities and residents are not aware of the dangers of trains traveling through their respective communities.

“We've had three derailments in two years in the city of Romulus. It's part of a bigger-picture issue. Of course, we want to make sure our public is safe right now, but the federal oversight is something I have heartburn over,” McCraight said.

Hazardous waste travels by train through nearly all local communities for disposal in landfills in Van Buren Township and to a hazardous waste well in Romulus.

The latest incident occurred at about 10 a.m. last Thursday, Nov. 2, when 14 cars of a 97-car train derailed on the north-south CSX tracks in Romulus, blocking Wick and Tobine road crossings. A CSX spokesman said that the incident posed no threats to the public and there were no leaks or spills from the cars, which usually carry hazardous waste matter. Bryan Tucker from CSX said the derailed cars were “mostly empty” at the time of the incident. No injuries were reported.

The Romulus police and fire department responded to the scene along with a HAZMAT crew from the Wayne County Emergency Management Team. McCraight issued a statement immediately following the incident to reassure the public. “At this time there appears to be no immediate threat to public health,” the mayor said.

 Two nearby schools, Wick Elementary School and Romulus Middle School were closed and students evacuated “in an abundance of caution,” according to a statement from Hugh McDairmid Jr. of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

Romulus Director of Public Safety Kevin Krause said city officials communicated with railway officials immediately following the crash. “It was luck of the draw today and today we were lucky,” Krause said regarding the empty hazardous waste cars. 

Public response to the crash was exacerbated by the Feb.  train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio which caused a serious threat to public safety with fire and the release of potential dangerous chemicals. In the Ohio incident, nearly 2,000 residents were evacuated from their homes. Another derailment took place in Van Buren Township only two weeks after the Ohio incident.

Following the Romulus derailment last week, state and federal officials issued statements urging stricter safety standards for railways.

“I am extremely frustrated and disappointed to hear about yet another train derailment in my community,” said state Rep. Reggie Miller, D-Van Buren Township.

“The startling frequency with which we experience these incidents underscores the urgent need for stricter laws and regulations regarding freight rail. I'm relieved that there was no hazardous waste spilled, but as we know from similar accidents, we are not always so lucky. This situation is untenable, and it must change.”

U.S. Rep. Shri Thanedar said the derailment “obviously represents a breakdown in the system.” He said the deteriorating infrastructure throughout the country was in need of attention and added, “The bipartisan infrastructure law will be bringing much-needed funds to the rail system, but we need to ensure the safety of our neighbors now.”

“Our base jobs as elected officials is to make sure our communities are kept safe,” McCraight said. “How do we keep the community safe when we don't see enough federal oversight on these railways to make sure that our public remains safe?”