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Temple Fire Department says they're ready if a train derails in Central Texas

Posted at 7:24 PM, Mar 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-07 23:46:24-05

TEMPLE, Texas — Train and railroad safety has been on the minds of many Texans after multiple derailments took place in Ohio recently, but the question of if Central Texas is safe still remains for some residents.

Texas has over 10,400 miles of tracks — which accounts for over seven and a half percent of all tracks in the country. That’s why experts say Texas doesn’t rely solely on the Federal Railroad Administration for safety checks.

”Texas participates in a state safety inspection program,” said Allan Rutter, Head of Freight and Analysis Division for Texas A&M Transportation Institutre.

“The FRA will certify state inspectors and many states will pay for their own rail inspectors — adding on to the number of FRA inspectors that are working in the states.”

About 75 percent of the cars traveling down the track are privately owned or leased by someone other than the railroad company operating the train that’s pulling them. Meaning it’s not just the railroad’s responsibility to make sure that they are safe to transport.

”It’s up to everybody to follow the rules, and there are plenty of rules about how to maintain all of that,” Rutter said.

“One of the things the NTSB will be looking at is the maintenance history of that particular car.”

Even with safety regulations in place, derailments do happen and departments like Temple Fire and Rescue are trained for these instances.

”It takes a lot of coordination training with the railroads here,” said Michael Hanewich, Battalion Chief of Operations for Temple Fire and Rescue.

“We have Union Pacific and BNSF both in town here. They provide training, they try to encourage everybody to attend, and we do some in person events — they even have some online now.”

On top of their training, Temple Fire and Rescue also has special hazmat suits to wear if the scene contains hazardous chemicals.

”We have some new ones now that have a fire barrier on them, and they’re designed and tested to take a flash fire — but they’re not something you’re going to wear in proximity for a long period of time,” Chief Hanewich said.

Luckily, there has been only one derailment that caught fire in recent history. It occured after an 18-wheeler struck a train in Cameron Texas two years ago — and Temple Fire and Rescue were fully prepared.

”That one was fairly minor because everyone knew the types of chemicals and the way they burn,” Chief Hanewich said.

“It wasn’t a stability issue.”

Even though major derailments are possible, experts say that most of them are minor and take place at slow speeds in rail yards.