The hot topic of train derailments have been weaving in and out of discourse. Conversations on how the recent derailments correlate to our climate are intense—rightfully so. Here’s the rundown.
As many people are aware, East Palestine, Ohio experienced a severe train derailment on February 3, 2023. The Norfolk Southern train emitted toxic chemicals, leaving many of us in fear of how the derailment would impact our environment and health. Thousands of OH and PA residents were ordered to evacuate due to the unknown causes of the toxins. Many people believe that Norfolk Southern did not respond to the situation correctly because they were reluctant to address the harms their train caused to an entire community and the proximal areas. Since East Palestine is right on the Ohio and Pennsylvania border, this certainly applies to the Lehigh Valley. A retired rainroad engineer suggested that the train that derailed in East Palestine would most likely have come through the Lehigh Valley, as the LV is one of Norfolk Southern’s primary routes to New Jersey and New York. The engineer that spoke to Peter also suggested a plethora of possibilities as to why the train derailed:
-Poor brakes can cause a car to lurch to one side and lead to derailment
-Long trains, especially where empty or low-weight cars are in front of heavy cars, since on a downhill that can cause the heavier cars too push the lighter car up (long trains are often formed with blocks of cars to be dropped off at different destinations—saving time but causing safety risks)
-Rushed maintenance and inspections due to short staffing and management pressure, which could easily result in missing a bad brake or wheel problems
East Palestine is not the first and last town to be impacted by derailments. According to the Science and Environmental Health Network, in the last five years, there has been about one train derailment each month that resulted in the emission of toxic chemicals. Why aren’t more people talking about this?
Transportation by train is not nearly as popular in America compared to other countries. I wasn’t sure why, but after researching the derailments, it makes sense. Rail transportation in the U.S. is exceedingly unsafe compared to other countries, according to Lehigh Valley Live. Not only does unsafe rail transportation damage the enviornment because people are more inclined to drive cars or use other, more environmentally harmful forms of transportation, but if derailments are much more common than we thought, the increased amount of harmful toxins being released is abominable for the environment and our health.
I think this issue is exceedingly multifaceted. Although I don’t have any sensational ideas on how to combat this matter, I do have some suggestions. Obviously, we can try to decrease our carbon footprint, which we always should try to do. Since the weather is getting nicer, walking or biking places is much more comfortable. As a college student who lives off campus, I’ve been walking to class recently and I highly recommend it. Additionally, sign petitions! I attached links to some petitions at the end of this post.
There are so many conversations that could spark from this. I invite you to consider some questions: How do you think the increased amount of derailments will impact the Lehigh Valley? What do you think we can do to combat this issue? Please comment your thoughts (if you feel comfortable doing so)!
How the Ohio Train Derailment and its Aftermath Unfolded by Christine Hauser
Why Our Trains Are Toxic: The Dioxin Backstory by Peter Montague
East Palestine: “We Basically Nuked a Town with Chemicals So We Could Get a Railroad Open” by Tish O’Dell and Chad Nicholson