Off the rails: Ohio derailment sparks concerns over local rail safety


Jalen Alami

BART and Union Pacific are two separate rail systems that operate on different tracks in the San Francisco Bay Area, with BART serving as a public transportation system and Union Pacific primarily transporting freight.

According to data from the Federal Railroad Administration, there were at least 1,164 train derailments last year throughout the US, or around three daily.

Despite being a common phenomena, recent derailments in Ohio have generated extensive media coverage. Specifically, a Norfolk Southern train containing toxic substances derailed near Springfield on March 4. The subsequent crash contaminated the local environment, prompting investigation and calls for improved rail safety. 

On March 9th, 2022, the Norfolk Southern CEO, Alan Shaw, appeared for a hearing held by the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. During the hearing, Shaw acknowledged the incident and apologized for it. 

I’m terribly sorry for the impact this derailment has had on the folks of that community. And yes, it’s my personal commitment that’s Norfolk Southern that we’re going to be there for as long as it takes,’ said Shaw. 

Republican senators proposed the Railway Safety Act of 2023, in order to prevent the accident from occurring again. A variety of regulations have been incorporated into the bill to improve safety protocols and stop further occurrences, including new safety standards and guidelines for trains carrying dangerous substances such as vinyl chloride.

“We are committed to the legislative intent to make rail safer. Norfolk Southern runs a safe railroad and it’s my commitment to improve that safety and make our safety culture the best in the industry,” said Shaw.

With Amador’s location just north of train tracks, the risk of a derailment is paramount to school safety.

“I teach in the D-building, and we’re in the corner closest to the tracks. There is occasional honking and I’ll have to quiet down. Some of the teachers on the outer edge [of the school] have to stop what they’re doing, though, and wait until the train passes since there’s not just horns, there’s also the sound of the train passing,” said AV Chemistry teacher Brandy Barnett

With Amador’s location just north of Union Pacific tracks, the risk of a derailment is paramount to school safety. These tracks in Pleasanton are part of the Union Pacific Railroad network, which is one of the largest freight railroad systems in the United States, transporting goods such as coal, grain, chemicals, and automobiles across the country.

“Derailments usually happen because there is something wrong with the train or tracks. They might not be well maintained,” said Honors Principles of Engineering student Kevin Lee (‘25)

A derailment near Amador would likely damage several buildings on Amador’s southern end, including the E, M, F, and D buildings. Thankfully, the maintenance needed to prevent such a derailment is likely taken.

“There are more strict regulations in California than in other states. I’m hoping our regulations would prevent something like that from happening. A derailment here has never crossed my mind,” said Barnett