INDIANAPOLIS - The head of the National Transportation Safety Board said this week that the nation's railroad could pose a catastrophic threat to the U.S. population.
A train carrying crude oil that explodes or derails poses a threat to the health and safety of people, property and the environment, NTSB officials said.
It was a point underscored in Indianapolis on Tuesday, when a train crashed into a truck loaded with pineapple on the city's east side.
The collision occurred when a truck hauling nearly 43,000 pounds of pineapples hung up on the CSX track at the intersection of Rural and Massachusetts Streets. Seconds later, a special Department of Defense train carrying a half-a-million-pound container designed to haul spent nuclear waste ripped the truck in two.
Indianapolis Homeland Security officials called the rail transport a pre-planned event. They called the accident unforeseen.
"You'd have to get with D-O-D to get information behind it. There's different things that come under that same type of container design," said Indianapolis Homeland Security Chief Gary Coons. "But we can't release that information. But we have a good relationship with CSX."
CSX hauls freight and hazardous materials across 2,700 miles of track throughout Indiana. And in Indianapolis, trains haul volatile cargo through some of the most critical infrastructure and the most densely populated neighborhoods in the city.
"These houses are so close to the railroad tracks," said Adrian Lewis, who lives in one of those neighborhoods. "No warning, no nothing. And if that stuff starts spilling, you can only knock on all these doors so fast to try and get them out of there."
CSX makes concessions to Indianapolis during major sporting events by posting railroad police officers along downtown rail lines. And it will not haul hazardous cargo through the city before, during and after games at Lucas Oil and Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
But this year alone there have been eight catastrophic rail accidents involving the derailments of trains hauling crude oil. According to transportation safety officials, the amount of crude oil hauled by the railroads has quadrupled in the past decade.
"These are mechanical items. The train is mechanical in a sense. There's always been questions about why that train derailed in some part of the state," said Coons. "Something failed."
The city says it regularly communicates with CSX regarding sensitive shipments across Indianapolis.
Within the last week, U.S. transportation officials sent a new package of safety proposals to the White House, including a request to take immediate action to protect the public – even if it means invoking emergency action to do so.
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