Letter to the editor: ‘Near misses’ disconcerting
(Re: Two freight train cars derail in Middlebury; no injuries or spills.) As someone whose home is right alongside the tracks just north of that incident this latest near miss concerns me. It’s not about the bullet that was dodged; it’s also about the potential for a real catastrophe. There was another even nearer miss about 11 years ago. I had just moved here in August 2007 when the first derailment occurred downtown.
Less than a year later, with no media coverage that I know of, there was another derailment right next to my property (behind Catamount Park). I awoke in the middle of the night to voices, floodlights, and machinery going. I went back to bed thinking it was a crew finally getting around to repairing the tracks from the earlier accident.
The next morning a neighbor approached the crew still working there who told him that a couple of cars jumped the tracks late the previous night and their wheels tore up the railroad ties until they could get the engine to stop. They were there to repair the busted ties. What I’d heard was a crew trying to get the cars back on the track. Fortunately, the cars jumped off toward Catamount Park and not the two large LP gas tanks on our condo association’s property, not 20 feet from four of the 14 units along the tracks.
In September 2015 while I was out of town, I came back to find windows broken and a chunk of wood embedded in the opposite wall of my upstairs bedroom. After the police and my insurance company investigated we found that a sub-contractor for Vermont Rail System was clearing along the tracks with an industrial-strength bushwhacker. The force of a thwacked branch sent it 30 feet up and through my second-floor window. Luckily I wasn’t home.
However, neighbors did witness the machine trying to take down a tree with the bushwhacker (and not with a chainsaw). As they stood outside they watched the tree fall toward — but missing — them and crash down on one of their decks. It turns out that the father-son operating team had scant, if any, prior experience with the equipment.
Mr. Wulfson of VTR, in my opinion, seemed less-than-bothered about the incident, even somewhat blasé about compensation. I did instigate a correspondence with (Middlebury Town Manager) Kathleen Ramsey, who was on a first-name basis with Mr. Wulfson during these negotiations. At the time I felt heard, but of no real concern to the town/railroad relationship.
There has been no following up about track safety with residents, as far as I know. Just how many more near misses will our luck hold out for? Recently, the Dinner Train has been blasting by our homes at a speed that must be above the limit. (Which is what, does anyone know?) Other engines (not all) exceed safe speeds and noise levels appropriate for a residential area. Where do we go to address these concerns?
I’d like these stories to remind our town selectboard, as well as the other vested parties, e.g. David Wulfson of VTR, the Dinner Train, and the anti-rerouting folks, that there are families who live by these tracks — these are not just the backyards of businesses — who have a stake in the safe operation of such an impactful private utility.
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