Trains and Pains

We’re getting an earful about the advantages railroads have over the trucking industry, but there’s another side to the story. The downside. The side that gets little media coverage.

On the first of the month, for example, a barge broke away from its mooring at a marine facility in Burlington, Iowa, and disrupted operations for awhile. But what does that have to do with the operations of a railroad? Here’s the entire report, as brief as it is.

“Rail traffic backs up after barge strikes BNSF bridge”

“The U.S. Coast Guard said a barge that broke away from moorings on the upper Mississippi River and became wedged against a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway bridge for several days was freed over the weekend.

“The barge was one of five that broke away from a Matteson Marine facility in Burlington, Iowa, at about 1 a.m. Thursday. Four of the barges were recovered quickly, but one remained wedged against the BNSF bridge and was finally freed 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

“Rail traffic was shut down for 35 hours while the barge was recovered, and the Associated Press reported 100 trains were backed up as a result.

“Damage to the bridge near Burlington is reported as minimal, and the Coast Guard said the accident remains under investigation.”

Well, the bridge came out of it with hardly a scratch, but what about the merchants who were depending upon the delivery of those tons and tons of goods that were being freighted in those 100 backed up trains? There are no alternate routes for trains when emergencies arise, as there are for truckers in the nation’s highway systems. Those merchants could do nothing but to wait.

Although railroad mishaps are a frequent occurrence, the media seems reluctant to give them the ink they deserve. For example, nationwide in the month of January 2007, 220 reported accidents involved:
• 535 locomotives,
• 12,054 railcars,
• 610 railcars carrying hazardous materials,
• $ 17,639,564 of equipment damage,
• and $ 8,338,634 of track damage.

The eventual cost of those damages and injuries won’t be determined for some time, but they’ll greatly exceed the costs shown above. Lawyers will see to that.

So the next time a truck has a mishap, be thankful that it wasn’t a train.