FOX19 Investigates: Hazardous materials moving through the Tri-State on rails

FOX19 Investigates: Hazardous materials moving through the Tri-State on rails (VIDEO)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - There have been more than 1,100 accidents and incidents on our nation's railroads so far this year.

Just last month, an 18-wheeler carrying a crane got stuck on the tracks in front of an oncoming train in Louisiana. Unable to stop, the train smashed into the massive truck, derailing and releasing argon gas into the air. Homes within a half-mile radius were evacuated.

And last year in Quebec, 50 people were killed when a train carrying tankers full of crude oil derailed and exploded.

They are the kind of accidents Latonia resident Alma Chaney fears as she watches tankers full of hazardous materials rolling past her home every day.

"You know there's something on there that could be blowing my house up," Chaney said.

Earlier this year, a train derailed just steps from her home. No hazardous materials were involved in the derailment, but on the day FOX19 Investigates visited Chaney's Latonia home, we witnessed car after car carrying denatured alcohol, a highly-flammable substance that can create toxic gases.

If there was a serious derailment with denatured alcohol near her home, "it would kill everything around here," Chaney said.

A 2013 study on hazardous materials that move through the Tri-State shows the area is a major hub for rail traffic. More than 100 trains roll through daily.

For security reasons, railroads do not release the exact chemicals on a specific train, but FOX19 Investigates spent weeks watching local trains. Among dozens of types of chemicals, we found alcohols, liquefied petroleum gases and sulfuric acid, which are extremely dangerous if inhaled.

And railroads can't refuse carrying any hazardous material, no matter how dangerous. "We operate under what's called the common carrier law. If a product is delivered to us in a federally-approved container, we are obligated to deliver it to its destination," said Rob Doolittle the Director of Media Relations for CSX.

Cincinnati Fire Department trains continuously for any kind of hazmat situations. "They can all be dangerous in one way or another," said District Chief Tom Lakamp, who runs the department's Special Operations Unit.

And while rail experts maintain railroads are the safest way to transport chemicals, terror expert Ed Bridgeman says the nation's rail lines are an easy target. "On a scale of one to ten. I'd say we're a 15 for vulnerability," Bridgeman said.

They are words that are hard to hear for those who work, play and live along the tracks. They say they may get used to the sound, but never get used to the feeling that something could go wrong.

"I think everybody here worries actually worries about it," Chaney said.

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