Editorial: Of trains and thinking ahead
News Tuesday of another incident on the train tracks near Middlebury’s downtown will always revive thoughts that something catastrophic could occur in the downtown. This time the incident was minor. A faulty rail switch with “metal fatigue” broke and two freight cars capsized.
That one was empty and the other was filled with non-toxic limestone was the luck of the draw. It was a long train strung together by multiple cars carrying a wide assortment of goods, of which explosive fuels and toxic substances are often part of the mix. The disturbing part is that section of track was recently inspected and upgraded; only the part that was faulty was missed.
This isn’t said to raise unwarranted fear in Middlebury. Rather it is to suggest that operational measures be put into place to prevent even the most remote likelihood of a deadly accident within the town’s industrial, commercial or residential space. The tracks come within feet of the town’s water-treatment and sewage plant, parades through our industrial park and the heart of what we all dearly hope is a vibrant and bustling downtown, and then on past the district’s high school and near the hospital, which while far enough away to prevent personal harm at either institution, could prompt evacuations from both if gaseous toxic substances were released.
If the safest option, a bypass around the town, was not in the cards for whatever financial and state policy reasons as could be contrived, then at least our town fathers should insist that future trains make their way ever-so-gingerly through town. Like those wonderfully effective signs that tell drivers to “Drive like your kids live here,” railway officials should have that same sense of caution.
That message and those specific guidelines should be set in stone now, not in 2021 when the railway will use any excuse it can to blaze through town at the fastest speeds, and least maintenance, federal and state guidelines allow.
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