Opinion: Shabby condition of railroad tracks demand attention

Explosive Fuel and Unsafe Railroad Tracks
We are all expecting a successful outcome and good service from the new railroad tunnels through downtown Middlebury next year. Also, there is talk of new railroad tracks from Rutland to Burlington to accommodate Amtrak. This is all well and good, but the system — federal, state and private — has consistently looked the other way concerning the condition of the existing railroad tracks.
Approximately three years ago I was very much involved writing letters to this paper, talking with state representatives and town officials, and walking the tracks with Sen. Giard and getting a few hundred signatures on a petition for safe railroad tracks. Immediately after the derailment in downtown Middlebury I was waiting over the bridge on Merchants Row. I saw firemen saving our town; working to extinguish a fire from a tanker leaking on the ground.
This prompted me to make a prediction based solely on my inexperienced assessment of what I had been seeing walking the track sometimes from my condo to town. I commented to friends that I thought there would be another derailment within a year.
Eleven months later at approximately 3 a.m. there was a derailment directly in front of my condo. This time the fuel tank car was off the tracks but still stood upright with no fire like the previous derailment. A railroad official told me this was not serious because the tanker did not fall down.
My comment to him was, “The only safe place for that fuel tanker was on the tracks.” He agreed with me. At this point I continue to persist on getting safe tracks. I talked with Sen. Claire Ayer, and we finally got some work done to the tracks.
One does not have to be an engineer to see what is wrong. So many spikes are coming out of place, some 3 or 4 inches high, lots of them. So many rotten or split ties that couldn’t support the rails, some actually missing. Many of the rails had 3-inch pieces missing on top where they come together.
Now fast-forward to June 18, 2016. The condition of the tracks is even worse than three years ago. Walking the tracks now for 300 to 400 feet I counted 91 wooden ties that are obliterated (of no function), and more than half of the rest are so rotten they cannot hold spikes that support the rails.
So many steel plates under the rails are out of position — not supporting the rails. Half of these plates are sinking into the rotten ties. Without question, this is a disaster waiting to happen with all this highly dangerous fuel (dozens of tank cars) riding on extremely unsafe tracks. The proof is laying there for anyone to see.
Once again, I’m not an expert on railroads, but I’m really concerned about all the people who live and sleep 40 feet from these tracks; they carry so much highly flammable fuel. An engineer just told me there is a machine with a crew of three men that could replace all of these ties in this area in a few days.
Is it asking too much to make this a number one priority, to be given immediate attention and not actually wait until this other major work is completed? We have no time. If anyone doubts my assessment, please go and see for yourself.
Fred Barnes

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