As a councilmember, I recently had discussions with our city manager, deputy city manager for public safety, and emergency manager regarding concerns about train derailments and our city’s preparedness.
It seems concerns have been heightened after the recent derailment and chemical-spill disaster in East Palestine, Ohio.
Our city staffers provided me with valuable information that I would like to share.
First, it’s important to note that railroads are not required to notify jurisdictions of all materials being transported. The federal regulation governing this is referenced here.
In our history, it is unknown how many times we have been notified of any shipment that falls under this regulation. Even though many materials transported are considered hazardous, they do not meet the requirement for notification to reduce the chances of intentional acts of terrorism.
In terms of resources, prevention and response are key. We are ahead of many jurisdictions in our automatic aid and enhanced evacuation planning, which can minimize the impact of any hazmat release. Lack of resources is an issue everywhere, and that’s why mutual aid is beneficial. Maricopa has implemented various levels of mutual aid, including local (automatic aid and established agreements), AZMAC (Statewide Mutual Aid Compact), and EMAC (Federal Mutual Aid Agreement).
Regarding safety, the Union Pacific Railroad, which passes through Maricopa, has a straight, flat route, and we do not experience ground heaving due to frost depth fluctuations. The Federal Railroad Administration requires annual inspections of tracks, and according to Union Pacific, they exceed the minimum requirements to ensure safety. Cargo and passenger rail traffic run on these tracks, and it is the responsibility of the rail companies to maintain their engines and railcars and ensure they are in working order.
While there is a risk in being located near railroad tracks, the chances of a major incident are very small. More than 99.9% of hazmat shipments reach their destination without a release caused by a railroad accident, making rail transport significantly safer than transportation by truck or air.
In the event of an incident involving hazardous materials, Maricopa takes steps to plan and prepare.
Our first responders are trained at the HazMat awareness level, and our automatic aid is immediately there to respond and mitigate the incident. Public notification will be made as soon as possible, with precaution information and/or evacuation notice. City officials are attending evacuation workgroup meetings with numerous jurisdictions in Arizona to enhance the efficiency of evacuation. This includes implementation of “zonal evacuation,” where zones are established for a strategic approach.
While a 1.5-mile evacuation radius would include a significant number of Maricopa residents, we do everything we can to prepare for a possible railroad incident involving hazardous materials.
It’s important to note that railroads do include placards on railcars and documentation with the engineer in case of an emergency.
It’s also important to note that the rail companies will not release information about what is being carried across the tracks, as this could be used as intelligence for a terrorist attack.
Overall, it’s a team effort among rail companies, regulations and government jurisdictions to take actions to prevent and prepare for incidents, even though they are statistically unlikely to occur.
Vincent Manfredi is an owner of InMaricopa.