Working the rails has always held a degree of danger. At the height of railroad usage, the dangers were largely due to hazardous working conditions and materials that were not as safe as those we have today, like coal and wood. These dangers were unavoidable considering they provided jobs and made it possible to transport goods as well as grow our country to what it is today. While we’ve come a long way in terms of the railroad, there are still dangers present.
Past Rail Dangers
Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, railroad work was famed for being dangerous and difficult. Railroad accidents were not uncommon. For example, many trains used wooden cars; thus, the impact of a collision could completely shatter the car and kill all occupants. Other risks included human error, brakemen riding on top of cars to stop trains manually, trains being lit using gas stored underneath the floors of train cars at night. Additionally, building the railroads was dangerous.
Modern Day Dangers
Today, many might think that we’ve advanced enough that, except for a fluke now and then, the dangers of railroad work are outdated. While it’s true that the situation has improved (admittedly, the bar was low), it has by no means been solved.
According to a statement by Railroad Workers United, “The public generally has no idea what goes on daily on America’s railroads.” It goes on to cite concerns regarding “chronic crew fatigue, single employee train crews, excessively long and heavy trains, draconian availability policies, short staffing, [and] limited time off work,” all of which work together to create an unsafe work environment and increase the chance of work injury.
Considering the amount of oil trains that travel the railways every single day, preventing railroad accidents by increasing safety regulations should be a concern not just for those who man the engines, but for the entire public. These cars and their cargo are able to do some serious damage, and it has been seen time and time again.
In recent years, as oil shipments by rail have increased, railroad accidents involving crude oil have reached an all-time high. National Geographic reports that in 2010, there were only 9 incidents and 4900 gallons spilled. Those numbers multiplied each succeeding year, until, in 2014, they jumped to a shocking 143 incidents spilling 57,600 gallons. Furthermore, 2015 has seen its fair share of accidents as well, often causing fires and explosions.
Risks to Workers
In 2015 so far, the Railroad Workers Alliance has reported nineteen deaths of employees on the job, so worker injury can still be fatal. Crewmembers can be killed or injured by collisions, derailments, machinery malfunctions, fires and other accidents. In most cases, workers’ compensation is offered, but on the condition that the injured party can prove that the accident was caused by negligence on the part of the railroad, not by their own.
No amount of workers’ compensation can bring back a life lost or undo psychological trauma suffered. Safety regulations desperately need to be re-evaluated if the railroad industry wants to prevent work injury on the tracks and in the yard, and ultimately save lives.