By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher
Trains and ink track in my family’s blood; I love to watch and learn from both. William Austin Hamilton Loveland (1826–1894) was the one of the founders of the Colorado, Clear Creek and Pacific Railway (later Colorado Central Railroad) and my great-great grandfather. Besides Loveland Pass and the city of Loveland named in his honor, he also was the second owner of the Rocky Mountain News.
My Mother, Cecile Loveland Schier, used to give us reading material on William as she worked on the family genealogy, My much-older brother Fred became the real train fanatic in the family, and I remember watching trains with him as they went by my grandmother’s house across from Fairgrounds Park. He also built some pretty cool train sets.
I’ve obviously gone over to the inky side, but I’ve always watched trains throughout my life and explored their tracks when I could. Train tracks are often an isolated avenue with trees cloaking neighborhoods, factories or fields on each side where they don’t run across open landscape. People are closer than you sometimes think as you wander the creosote-soaked timbers.
Sometimes you find the strangest things along the rail bed. Everybody must have put a penny or seen one on the track, a smeared streak from the weight and heat of rumbling cars. Sometimes you find an unusual rock, an old junk soda sign, even an arrowhead, or a loose spike, just laying there. I have three spikes on my kitchen counter, really. Two from track along the Rock River and one from track along Kent Creek.
I’ve had particular interest in the train tracks I’ve seen along the 320-miles of the Rock River National Water Trail, and in tracks I’ve seen along the Mississippi as I have visited the Quad Cities and Port Byron area.
The poor condition of the tracks in the Port Byron area were pointed out to me by the Quad Cities’ Water Keeper Art Norris. About four years ago, Norris predicted a spill on the Mississippi, pointing poor stretches of tracks or tank cars full of who-knew -what, also in poor condition.
As I watched video of the huge plume of oil smoke polluting the Galena stretch of Mississippi Valley, I said, “Damn, Norris was right.”
I looked closely at pictures of the burning tank cars to see if oil was running into the river; as in 2009 on the Kishwaukee River, when flaming ethanol, combined with a massive rain wash of new farm fertilizer and alleged overrun from Oregon’s sewer system had created a gigantic toxic water plume, resulting in the largest fish kill in the history of our state. The Chicago Central and Pacific railroad was only fined a paltry $400,000 for that historic disaster on one of the state “Class A” rivers. The Kishwaukee is one of only four “Class A” rivers out of the 98 rivers in the entire State of Illinois.
As to the new Galena derailment, so far the EPA has asserted the oil burned off before it reached the waterway. They and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad have been erecting barriers to keep the oil back from flood waters or from being carried by snow melt.
As was pointed out by NPR’s Diane Rehm during an entire hour devoted to the subject of rail transportation of crude oil, the U.S. and Canada have had 12 spills/derailments this year, and we are only three months into 2015.
The most recent being as Reuters reported: “A Canadian National Railway Co. train carrying crude oil derailed near the northern Ontario community of Gogama, with multiple cars on fire and some leaking oil into a waterway, the company said on Saturday.”
Canada has had three derailments in less than a month.
Listening to the Diane Rehm show, and reading press from around the area and country, I have some recommendations for my railroading friends:
All railroads should go on a new, vigorous campaign to inspect and repair the 140,000 miles of track in our county. Priority should be given to populated areas and track that runs along waterways.
Speed must be reduced for trains carrying crude, especially from the shale areas because it is more gaseous and volatile.
De-gasification might be considered before it is shipped.
It’s time to be very conservative. Speed in populated areas should be only 5 to 10 miles per hour, and while many such trains can go up to 40 miles per hour, a consideration of dropping the limit to 20 miles per hour might be wise on runs through rural areas, particularly those along waterways.
New study should be given to rerouting trains around populated areas. Refineries are undoubtedly associated with populated areas, and rerouting will be impossible there.
Unified electric breaking systems must be required for oil and chemical trains, and new, more efficient systems should be on the top of every railroads R&D list.
The newest tank cars known as “CPC 1232” are not good enough. Stronger, double-walled cars must be developed.
Shorter oil and chemical trains of only 20 to 50 cars might be considered, instead of 100 cars because of how the train has different dynamics of sloshing oil as it goes around curves and up and down grades.
As a businessman, I know these suggestions will all cut into rail profits. I won’t fall for the Keystone Pipeline argument because that goes north and south, whereas most of this oil is going to the east and west coasts.
I will continue to support rail and barge traffic on the Mississippi and other rivers because of the overall fuel savings. Barges and trains are renewable energy.
However, “Safety First” is a cliché for a reason. We cannot invest enough in our well-being and our environment. These suggestions are investment in the long life of rail and its good name.
As founder of the Rock River National Water Trail (the 10th out of 18 that now make up the U.S. Dept. of Interior’s and National Park Service’s National Water Trail System), I am naturally very concerned for our safety of waterways, their watersheds and aquifers.
We all must guard closely what comprises half or more of our body weight. The website chemistry.about.com tells us: “The average adult human body is 50-65% water, averaging around 57-60%.
We are our own best water watchdogs. Inspect rail-road tracks near you, but stay off the bridges. Help our railroads, and our quality of life; contact these websites if you spot a stretch of track:
Our national railroads are one of our national treasures, with an amazing history. But considering the modern derailment rate, they obviously need work. Put some locomotion behind your ink, and contact your local, state and federal representatives and toot, “No more spills.”
And take a train ride (don’t forget your newspapers); they’re great.