ST. LOUIS – Recent train derailments involving hazardous materials are raising concerns about what we know is coming through our towns. St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson says we need more answers.
“You never know what’s coming through these towns, these cities. You just don’t know. The railroad doesn’t share the information with us about what they’re transporting,” he said. “We should have a schedule of what’s coming through a densely populated area and where it’s being parked; what we have over there.”
Jenkerson’s concerns come in the wake of the Feb. 3 train derailment in eastern Ohio. It involved toxic chemicals contained in train cars that reportedly came from Madison, Illinois. One of the chemicals was identified as vinyl chloride.
Jenkerson described it as being, “…everywhere. And it’s a used in a lot of different production processes, so it’s highly flammable, caustic, cancerous when it burns. It’s a nasty, nasty produc,t and when it burns it forms another product that’s even worse.”
Mechelle Minden, a member of the group St. Louis for Safe Trains, which has worked with the fire department after the 2013 Canadian rail disaster.
“We have a vested interest in what comes through our neighborhood,” Minden said.
Residents who live near train tracks began monitoring what was coming through our area.
“They did a fantastic job, that group, you know?” Jenkerson said. “They were counting cars for me. They were taking pictures. What time it was going through? How fast it was going? Was it stopping at certain periods?”
Union Pacific Railroad told FOX 2 there is a mobile app called Ask Rail, which is only accessible to first responders with a secure access, but that it gives immediate information about what type of hazmat material a rail car is carrying.
Jenkerson said he knows about the app, but, while it’s a useful tool, does not provide enough in-depth information his department needs.
Union Pacific added in a statement: “It is important to remember that 99.9% of all hazardous material shipments by rail reach their destination safely. However, should an incident occur, Union Pacific has robust practices and protocols in place, including HAZMAT team members located around our network.”
Terminal Railroad also told us: “BNSF Railway has response equipment and a foam trailer staged in St. Louis and they conduct periodic training.”
Jenkerson commented, “For the most part, the railroads do a good job, which we all understand. A lot of product is shipped every day.”
The chief said his department’s best preparedness is always to be ready for the worst case, which is why he says he’ll keep pushing for better information.