In Summer 2014, residents of Rochester began to worry that various train bridges throughout the city were on the brink of collapse. It wasn’t just an existential threat, either; massive freight tankers pass just feet away from otherwise quiet Rochester neighborhoods across these bridges, carrying oil and other dangerous chemicals. That’s why activists have taken to calling these trains “bomb trains.”
This June in Oregon, one community’s worst fears came to life after a bomb train derailed in the small town of Mosier, OR. A Union Pacific train jumped the tracks 70 miles east of Portland, forcing the evacuation of 400 Mosier residents and a school, closing a nearby highway, and spilling oil into the nearby Columbia River.
What Are Bomb Trains, and Why Are They Suddenly So Unpopular?
While the Mosier incident sent a dramatic plume of thick black smoke over the town, it was a relatively minor affair, all things considered. So far this year, no other “bomb trains” have derailed in the United States, but these dangerous trains are everywhere. In 2015, more than 400,000 train cars bearing oil traveled within the country, compared to just 5,000 in 2006.
The United States has produced record quantities of crude oil and gas in recent years, and every community in the country relies on these fuels to keep the lights on, literally. While eco-activists have recently focused their protests on bomb trains, these freight networks are necessary to transport oil and gas to the communities that need them, where they can be loaded on trucks and delivered.
Even activists who hate these trains rely on them, if only indirectly. Not only does the oil and gas industry power the country, but millions of people are employed simply to transport these fuels. The U.S. transportation industry logs about 450 billion miles yearly, and there are about 3.5 million U.S. truck drivers working today, many of whom are hauling fossil fuels like oil and propane.
And it’s not just truckers and freight workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are more than 7,000 warehouses employing 140,000 people today; gas stations and similar industries also make up a share of oil and gas industry workers.
Of course, that doesn’t make bomb trains any less dangerous, nor global warming less of a threat, hence the protests.
Activists Fight Bomb Trains in New York State
As recently as May 14, bomb train and environmental activists were in Albany, NY, asking lawmakers and rail companies to stop running these trains through populated New York areas. One group of protesters sat on train tracks inside the Port of Albany, while another group went to the Ezra Prentice Apartment Complex, which is just 15 feet away from tracks where bomb trains travel.
“We are not asking them to make it go away overnight. We are asking them to help us make our communities safe,” said protester Vivian Kornegay.
The event wasn’t just hippie protesters upset about the bomb trains.
“This is about engaging the people that live in the community,” said Carolyn McGlaughlin, the Albany County Council President. “If you engage and educate them, they will make the right decisions and help the powers that be make the right decisions that affect their lives.”
Rochester Is Home To Dozens of Dangerous Bridges
Back in Rochester, officials checked Rochester bridges flagged by residents. One bridge in Pittsford had support columns that had visibly rusted through, but officials gave the bridge the all-clear anyway. But during the investigation, local media outlets revealed that many of these train bridges have little to no regulatory oversight whatsoever.
And according to an article that appeared in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle this June, about one-third of Rochester’s bridges are considered “structurally deficient,” and some of those bridges carry freight rail traffic. The entire article is worth a read, but here are five of the 10 worst bridges in Monroe County:
- Route 490 eastbound over Marsh Road, Pittsford
- Ontario Street over Irondequoit Creek, East Rochester
- Interstate 490 eastbound over CSX tracks, Chili
- Route 390 northbound over Trolley Boulevard, Gates
- Inner Loop over Browns Raceway, Rochester
To find out where the other “structurally deficient” bridges are in Rochester, click here.