Monday, January 15, 2007

Stupidity causes evacuation

Residents in Estill County, Kentucky, had to be evacuated after four runaway train cars, one of which was carrying butyl acetate, slammed into a locomotive. Among other things, butyl acetate is used as a flavoring agent in foods and fragrances, but it is toxic in high concentrations if swallowed or inhaled.

Ordinarily, this could be labeled a horrible accident, but in this case CSX Transportation officials ordered the locomotive placed on the tracks purposefully to stop the cars, which had been rolling free for 20 miles. Maybe I'm the one off track here, but shouldn't you expect a fiery collision if you place a stopped locomotive in front of runaway train cars full of flammable chemicals? It seems to me the better course would have been to place a locomotive on the tracks traveling at nearly the same speed as the cars, then let the runaways catch up slowly. Or put the locomotive on the rails behind the runaways, then catch them and couple up. Either solution would have to be less catastrophic than the method used by CSX.

As it was handled, the end result was an explosion that destroyed all four cars and the locomotive, and caused a toxic cloud to spread over the community. Twenty homes, a coal tipple and a factory were evacuated. Residents in nearby Irvine were told to shelter in place.

The National Transportation Safety Board was on its way to investigate. Seems that someone has some 'splaining to do.

UPDATE: Now CSX "cannot confirm" that it moved a locomotive into the path of the runaway train cars, The Lexington Herald-Leader is reporting.