A Crash Course in Logistics

“UP continues cleanup of massive Inland Empire rail yard derailment”, was the headline. The writeup in yesterday’s ‘Riverside Press-Enterprise’ reads as follows:

“No injuries were reported in a massive rail yard pile up early Saturday that left dozens of mangled rail cars and mountains of feed-corn strewn along the side of an Inland Empire switching yard. Union Pacific crews worked through the weekend to clean up the results of the crash, which damaged four sets of tracks and littered 38 cars inside the Union Pacific’s West Colton Classification Yard in the city of Colton.

“The 3 a.m. crash Saturday also involved rail cars carrying hazardous materials such as the poisonous plastics-component phenol, disinfectants and pharmaceuticals. Hazmat officials from the Colton Fire Department stayed at the site well into Saturday assessing the damage and monitoring the cleanup. Fire officials report that none of the hazardous cargo leaked or spilled, however a large spill of feed-corn left dunes of the feed stock across the accident site. UP said it would take several days to determine the cause of the crash and it was still unclear to investigators which cars were in motion when the accident occurred. The yard is slightly downhill from a nearby facility in Bloomington and workers for the Omaha, Neb.-based rail firm often use gravity to move cars down through the Colton yard as trains are ‘built’ before heading out of the downstream yard.

“UP crash clean-up experts on the scene told the ‘Riverside Press-Enterprise’ that the number of cars involved and the location inside a switching yard made the accident a rare occurrence.

“‘If it had happened within work hours, it would have killed somebody,’ railroad repairman Hector Meza told the newspaper.”

“ … a rare occurrence”? We remember writing about these “rare occurrences” in October of 2004:
• An already burdened Union Pacific Railroad was further stressed in mid-August when a fire in a 3100-foot tunnel rerouted trains until the end of the month.
• A BNSF washout in mid-August interrupted all rail traffic to and from Long Beach for a 24-hour period.
• Two other UP and BNSF derailments in the Long Beach and Oakland areas also brought about costly delays.
• The derailment of a 98-car train in Alabama shut down the major UP and CSX rail route servicing New Orleans and the Texas Gulf Coast.

Angela Greiling Keane, however, published a report from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) about these “rare occurrences” in 2004:
“The FRA said the number of rail accidents has steadily increased in recent years. In 2004, there were more than 3,100 rail accidents, up from just over 2,700 in 2002.”

[Arrogant, privileged, powerful, rich … and perilous.]