When most people think of train accidents, and their victims, they think of passengers and employees aboard the train, and pedestrians or motorists struck by moving trains. But there can be many other victims, as well – the ones that most people generally don’t think of. These can include surrounding landowners, residents, and others who happen to be located near the train at the time of the accident.
Last month’s catastrophic train derailment in Western Illinois is the perfect example. A freight train derailed near Ottawa – an already dangerous and potentially deadly occurrence. The train, which was 131 cars long, lost 26 of its cars in the derailment, a massive train crash by any standard.
But this time, the train which derailed was carrying ethanol in large quantities for Archer Daniels Midland, a corn processor based in Decatur (as well as other chemicals and materials). So, when the derailment occurred, several portions of the train exploded, and others caught on fire. At least six of the seven to nine ethanol-carrying tanker cars burned their entire store of ethanol.
The resulting disaster created massive orange flames and smoke plumes visible for miles around. The sounds of the explosions were also heard miles away. In fact, the situation was so dangerous that an entire town was evacuated as a result. Tiskilwa, a small town of 800 residents located 100 miles to the West of Chicago, was under a mandatory evacuation order, with residents relocated to a local high school.
Although the fire was contained, and those in the town escaped initial injuries, the situation could have ended far worse. In fact, some Tiskilwa residents lived within 500 feet of the derailment. The town and its residents – as well as the employees onboard the train – were lucky to escape from this train accident without serious injuries or deaths.
There is also the environmental impact of the accident to consider. Although the investigations are not complete, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency was at work to ensure that none of the chemicals spilled in the explosion made their way into local waterways or groundwater. If they did, the potential injuries from and costs of the derailment, both monetary and human, will skyrocket.
Nothing is yet known about the cause of the accident, and initial investigations were hampered by the results of the fire. But train derailments are often caused by negligent maintenance or inspection of the train, negligent assembly of the disparate train cars, or unsafe speeds and inadequate braking.
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