Derailment Investigation Spotlights Profit-Driven Dangers

Freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio in February 2023. Image source: National Transportation Safety Board via WIkimedia Commons

Recently, there has been a series of railroad and other industrial disasters wreaking havoc on working-class communities.  On June 24, a day after a public hearing on the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment, a Montana Rail Link train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals into Montana’s Yellowstone River. Threats of exposure to hazardous chemicals shadow everyone in the U.S., with the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters reporting an average of one chemical incident every other day.

The National Transportation Safety Board hearing revealed that the Ohio train disaster was preventable. Warnings about the Norfolk Southern train had been dismissed and safety infrastructure was inadequate. A day before the incident, the train experienced mechanical problems and the train’s engineer expressed concern over the train being too long for its weight. The company’s sparse hot-bearing detectors failed to alert workers about the overheated wheel bearing with enough time to stop the train before the derailment.

Norfolk Southern, along with the rest of the rail industry, cuts corners to reduce costs and maximize profits. To reduce its workforce, the company decided to run fewer and longer trains; trains are carrying greater amounts of toxic chemicals with fewer workers to respond promptly to an accident. The company neglects safety practices, such as increasing the number of detectors that can prevent derailments.

Workers and communities are the ones that have to pay with their health and safety for the action and inactions of corporations and their government. The Senate loosened their proposal to require that detectors be 10 miles apart, rather than the current 20 miles, on tracks transporting hazardous materials. In Montana, it took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a week to start cleaning up asphalt and molten sulfur from the Yellowstone River, a major tributary to the Missouri River.

Continuing to allow profit-hungry capitalists and their bought-and-paid-for government to determine how industry and transportation operate is a recipe for ongoing disasters. It is set up to benefit bosses, not workers and communities. We must fight back to stop this train wreck!