Could it happen here?
On Jan. 6, 2005, two trains collided in Graniteville,
South Carolina. Several tank cars ruptured, including one
filled with chlorine. The crash resulted in nine deaths and
a community evacuation.
When I was interviewed by two local television
stations following this tragedy the first question they asked was,
“Could it happen here?” The answer is: it could happen anywhere
there are trains carrying hazardous chemicals. While the tentative
cause for the South Carolina incident has been identified as human
error, everyone involved in rail transportation is working hard
to prevent a similar incident from occurring in Iowa.
Train derailments are a common concern when
it comes to transporting hazardous materials. The total number
of derailments in Iowa fluctuates, but is currently down from 86
in 1985 to 82 in 2004.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The
rail business leaving or coming into Iowa has doubled since 1985,
as has the number of rail cars that move through the state without
stopping. The good news is that the number of derailments
has not kept pace with the increased train traffic. When additional
train traffic is factored in, the rate of derailments per million
train miles in Iowa shows a distinct downward trend.
The railroads have invested hundreds of millions
of dollars during this same period to upgrade and maintain their
tracks, install new signal systems to regulate the train operation
and protect the public at highway/railroad crossings, and train
their employees in safe handling of the trains.
In addition to the railroad personnel that
are constantly working to keep the system safe, the
Administration (FRA) employs inspectors in five disciplines to enforce
federal safety standards: track; operating practice; motive power
and equipment; signal and train control; and hazardous materials.
Inspectors from each discipline inspect rail operations and rail
infrastructure in Iowa. They write defects, issue violations
and assess civil penalties when standards are not met.
Since the mid 1970s, the Iowa Department of
Transportation has employed two full-time track inspectors to supplement
the federal track inspectors. The DOT’s track inspectors are certified
and licensed through the FRA and travel throughout the state inspecting
the railroad track conditions. Iowans are fortunate to have
Lindon Bowen and Jeff Secora serving as track inspectors, both former
railroad employees, they have extensive experience with tracks.
The railroads set the speed of their train operation,
and it is the railroad’s responsibility to ensure the track condition
meets the federal safety standards for their chosen level of operation.
Bowen and Secora ensure that the railroad inspectors are doing their
job of maintaining the track to meet the federal safety standards.
If deficiencies are found, the railroad can lower the train speed
or repair the defect.
Avoiding all risk of a crash similar to the South
Carolina incident may be impossible, but everyone associated with
rail transportation in Iowa is working very hard to make sure “it
doesn’t happen here.”
History in action
Board a train at
Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad
(BSV) for a ride back in history through the scenic Des Moines River
valley. Take a leisurely ride or opt for a dinner or dessert
train, if so inclined. Visit the large gift shop or museum. And
kids or grandkids will thank you for a fun ride with Thomas the
Tank Engine or with Santa on the Santa Express.
There is certainly a lot going on at the Boone
& Scenic Valley Railroad these days. But it has been quite a journey.
In 1983, the segment of track now operated by BSV was scheduled
for abandonment by the Chicago North Western. Reluctant to see the
line disappear, particularly in a town like Boone with a rich railroad
history, residents raised $50,000, mostly from donations of just
a few dollars each. This allowed the purchase of 11 miles
of line. A nonprofit historical society was established, and
the very first train began operation later that same year.
Over the years, engines and cars have been purchased and often refurbished,
events have been added and the little railroad now attracts visitors
from around the world.
Some riders are lured by train history; while
others are drawn by the beauty of the river valley or the simple experience
of riding a train. Passengers initially travel through some farmland,
but are soon greeted by the spectacular view from the Bass Point
Creek Bridge --- a full 156 ft. high and 784 feet long --- over
the Des Moines River. The run down the valley, through the woods,
and beside the river tops off a scenic and relaxing journey.
And if power is your thing, Boone and Scenic
Valley Railroad has each of the three types of engines in operation
--- steam, electric and diesel. In 1988, Boone and Scenic
Valley Railroad purchased the very last steam engine manufactured.
That doesn’t sound like a big deal until you realize that the manufacturer
was in China. More recently BSV added an electric interurban car,
which travels from the depot to downtown Boone on summer weekends.
Annual ridership is more than 36,000, boosted
by an additional 11,000 visitors when every train-lover’s favorite
cartoon character, Thomas the Tank Engine, comes to town.
Kids get a 25-minute ride with Thomas the Tank Engine in front, along
with a festival of other events, including special music, videos,
story-reading (featuring Thomas, of course), a maze, and many other
kid-friendly events. And for an enchanted winter journey, kids can
take a magical ride with Santa to the North Pole.
the school trips and corporate and rail organization charters, and
BSV is bustling. The trains are operated by fully-qualified engineers
and employees, and a loyal group of dedicated volunteers. Volunteers
from throughout Iowa, and even some surrounding states, come for
the opportunity to work at this historic gem of a railroad.
Fenner Stevenson, General Manager of BSV said, “The enthusiasm and loyalty
of the volunteers is great, and makes this truly a community achievement.
Volunteers come from all walks of life and all types of circumstances,
but the affection for this railroad is an equalizer – it’s amazing
how the volunteers all blend and work together to make BSV a truly
unique slice of Iowa history.”
For further information on dates of operation,
times and attractions, visit
Boone and Scenic Valley's web site or call 800-626-0319.