The Sept. 18 article headlined “Rail service, safety law on collision course” reports that the Federal Railroad Administration plans to shut down rail traffic on Dec. 31 unless collision avoidance technology, mandated by Congress five years ago, has been installed by then, and impose stiff fines on the offenders. The largest railroads have advised Congress they need a three-year extension, and Senator Thune, chair of the committee with oversight, forecasts “a huge disaster in the making.”
The action does seem extreme, in view of the essential role of rail traffic in moving people, livestock and crops, not to mention the inevitable spillover onto congested highways. Why the urgency?
Well, take that fatal derailment in May of an Amtrak train doing 100 mph on a curve in Philadelphia. Suppose it had been carrying Bakken crude from shale fields in Montana or North Dakota? This notoriously volatile product is often carried through cities, in cars not all rated to withstand the force of an explosion such as those which have been lighting up our landscape of late.
If such explosions were the work of terrorists, even Congress might be able to see the urgency.