Every Memphian on four wheels knows the simple joy of "riding the yellows" on Poplar Avenue: a minute of good luck when you find your transit paralleled by a train. This rumbling rail route is a hallmark of America's Aerotropolis and rarely causes much delay. Yesterday, like every other day, several trains rolled past my office in Clark Tower. I was particularly happy to hear them chugging along after the weekend's shocking news.
Freight train derails, sending container onto 7-lane avenue
Sunday morning, five freight containers derailed across from our Memphis office. A container from a double-stack car landed in one of Poplar's seven lanes, which could have been disastrous had the accident occured later in the day. Thankfully, there was little traffic at 5:45 on Sunday morning, and no one was injured.
Norfolk Southern averages 21 trains per day along this rail line. Crews from the railroad, Memphis Fire Department and Memphis Light, Gas & Water cleared the tracks, which reopened early that afternoon. Damage to the surrounding area included downed power lines and broken railroad crossing arms.
► View more photos: "Derailed Train; February 5, 2012" by Nicole R. Harris
How many freight trains derail each year?
According to the Association of American Railroads, 2009 was the safest year in freight rail history -- until that record was broken in 2010. For example, there were 1,366 derailments in 2009 and 1,337 in 2010. The 2010 number is down more than 40% from the 2,234 US train derailments in 2001.
Time will tell if 2011 continued the trend, as data from December 2011 are not yet available. However, by extrapolating data from January through November of the past three years, we can predict 2011's safety record:
- 2011's number of derailments seems to be comparable, but slightly higher, than those of the two years preceding.
- 2011's total number of accidents/incidents seems to be comparable, but slightly lower, than those of 2009 and somewhat lower than those of 2010.
- 2011's number of accidents/incidents per million train miles seems to be considerably lower than those of 2009 or 2010.
Regardless of December 2011's numbers, freight train safety generally seems to be traveling along the right track. Edward R. Hamberger, AAR's President and CEO, credited freight railways' increased investments in equipment, infrastructure and technology for the progress.
What does this mean for the February 5, 2012, rail accident in Memphis?
Sunday's "on-roading" accident reminds us that train wrecks can still happen, even in modern logistics hubs like Memphis. Fortunately no one was injured, but as Memphis City Council member Kemp Conrad explains in the video below, the accident could have been a tragedy.
► View video by Action News 5: Cause of East Memphis train derailment still unknown
The cause of the train crash remains under investigation. As we rule out possibilities for the cause of the accident, we hope to find insight into shipping safety in our local communities.
► Photos: Copyright Nicole R. Harris, journalist. Used with permission.
Marly Hazen is Webmaster at CTSI-Global and Editor of The Link.
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