Since a train carrying molten sulfur derailed near the Littleton Downtown Light Rail Station in January, life seems to be back to normal. Light rail …
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Since a train carrying molten sulfur derailed near the Littleton
Downtown Light Rail Station in January, life seems to be back to
Light rail is running. Freight lines are running. I guess many
people haven’t thought about the derailment in some time.
But we’re still left with a lot of unanswered questions about
what happened. In fact, the sheer lack of information about this
accident and, as it turns out, the December 2007 derailment a mile
south of the most recent one, is downright disturbing.
When the rail cars were piled up like Legos two months ago and
light rail service was suspended awaiting repairs, we didn’t expect
answers right away. We’re not unreasonable. We know there is more
to accident investigations of this sort than meets the eye, so some
patience on our part was in order.
In the meantime, we figured that an easy place to start
understanding train accidents in this corridor was explaining what
happened in December 2007 and that’s where I start getting
No one we initially asked could remember what caused that 2007
accident. It seems like the specifics of the investigation slipped
everyone’s mind, ours included. So we started looking into it.
Since then, we’ve been on a pinball’s ride of phone calls to one
railroad or another, sent chasing information on this Web site or
that Web site and still have come up with nothing. We’ve talked to
a number of people at Burlington Northern/Santa Fe and Union
Pacific, the two lines involved in the 2007 accident and have been
told no one knows what happened.
The kicker started to unfold Friday, when we were directed to
Federal Railroad Administration’s Web site to find the accident
We went to the site and found that the accident report was still
pending. In other words, nothing slipped our minds. No one has
forgotten. The cause of that 2007 accident simply doesn’t exist in
any documented form.
But it’s bigger than that. Littleton’s accident was only one of
22 accidents with reports listed as pending. That’s out of the 85
accidents investigated across the country that year. Twenty-six
percent of the train derailments that occurred that year are still
And it gets worse.
The site lists 94 accidents during 2008. Every one of them still
is listed as pending. Not a single one has been explained.
Railroads get a lot of heat from people about noise and simply
being in the way when civilization expands to the edge of the
tracks. Most of that criticism is undeserved in my book. The
railroads, in most cases, were here first and that counts for a lot
in these cases.
But the lack of information we’re getting about these accidents
is simply not good enough — not when rail cars carrying the likes
of molten sulfur are passing through populated areas and within
spitting distance of passenger rail lines. There must be a sense of
urgency in these matters, not for the sake of heaping blame on
people, but to understand what happened so it isn’t likely to
We’ll keep at it and update you from time to time about what we
find. But while we do that, help us out by raising this issue with
people who are in a place to move things along. Together, maybe, we
can learn some things and maybe make a few changes to the way
business is done.
Jeremy Bangs is the managing editor of Colorado Community
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