OMAHA, Neb. — Rail workers and working people near the world’s largest rail yard, Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard in nearby North Platte, had another narrow escape Sept. 14. A series of uncontrolled explosions inside a shipping container in the yard produced toxic smoke, prompting evacuations of nearby parts of the city of 23,000. The blast from the ignition set several nearby rail cars on fire.
This came six months since the derailment and toxic spill and fire poisoned East Palestine, Ohio, where working people are still fighting for health and safety protections.
The explosions in the yard took place inside the bottom container of a stacked rail car carrying 55-gallon drums of dangerous perchloric acid. Authorities are still unsure why the drums exploded.
Perchloric acid is a highly corrosive and potentially explosive liquid that is treated and used in food and drug production, as well as in pesticides, fireworks and explosives.
A few days before the explosion and fire, inspectors from the Federal Railroad Administration had visited the Bailey Yard and found a number of defects in both locomotives and rail cars.
In July and August inspectors found almost a 20% defect rate on rail cars and 73% on locomotives, twice the national average, FRA Administrator Amit Bose wrote to Union Pacific bosses Sept. 8.
Bose said the defects constitute a “significant risk to rail safety” on the Union Pacific, and that the railroad had been reluctant to fix the problems.
He questioned whether the recent layoffs of 94 locomotive craft workers and 44 carmen on the railroad left enough workers to complete necessary repairs.
Brad Halligan, chair of International Association of Machinists Local 180 there, told the North Platte Bulletin that Union Pacific had laid off 11 electricians and machinists in the yard Aug. 23, as well as 83 others across the system. There just are not enough workers to do the job, he said.
On Sept. 17 Fred Anderson, a member of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, was killed during a remote control operation in a CSX yard in Walbridge, Ohio He was the fourth CSX worker killed on the job recently.
Rail bosses’ drive to maximize profits at all costs led to disaster.