Freight Train Derailment in Ohio Raises Safety Questions for Proposed Hagerstown MARC Service

Updated 2/20/2023: Updated article to clarify that this is one of several potential options for extending the MARC line to Hagerstown, and include a source link.

HAGERSTOWN, MD News (2/19/2023) – The recent Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, has raised concerns about the safety of proposed MARC passenger service on shared rail lines with freight trains, especially in areas like Hagerstown, Maryland.

We previously reported on the possibility of the Maryland Department of Transportation establishing a MARC train route between Hagerstown and Washington, DC as part of the Brunswick line. The ongoing crisis in East Palestine, Ohio, raises additional concerns about the safety of the proposed MARC line options utilizing a shared track with freight trains. Most of the existing MARC line already shares track with CSX freight trains. The full report outlining all available options is available at the MDOT website.

One of the proposed MARC passenger service lines would utilize the same rail line as Norfolk Southern trains, with freight trains currently passing through Hagerstown from Charles Town, WV to Shippensburg, PA, and beyond. The potential for sharing the same rail lines with hazardous material-carrying freight trains has raised questions about the safety of passenger travel in such circumstances. Norfolk Southern was the freight train company involve in the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Freight and passenger trains have very different requirements and operational characteristics, leading to potential safety risks when they share the same tracks. The inherent speed differences and stopping distances of freight and passenger trains create significant challenges for ensuring safe operations. Even though passenger trains generally run at higher speeds, they have more stringent safety requirements, including the need for well-maintained tracks and adequate signaling systems to ensure safe operations.

Hagerstown is a busy rail hub with several major railroads operating through the area. As a result, there is an increased risk of train derailments and other incidents that can result in hazardous material releases. Adding passenger trains to the mix would only further complicate the dangers and potentially increase risk of an accident.

The risks associated with freight and passenger train operations are not limited to the transportation of hazardous materials. Derailments can happen due to a variety of factors, including equipment failure, human error, and track defects. In addition, the use of shared rail lines by freight and passenger trains increases the likelihood of accidents, especially at intersections or crossings.

Hagerstown Rail Lines - Source: Maryland Department of Transportation
Hagerstown Rail Lines – Source: Maryland Department of Transportation

The safety concerns raised by the recent Norfolk Southern train derailment highlight the need for increased safety measures in rail transportation. The Federal Railroad Administration requires railroads to implement safety management systems that provide a framework for identifying and managing risks associated with rail operations. However, it remains to be seen how effective these systems are in preventing train derailments and other accidents.

Overall, the proposed MARC passenger service on the same rail line as Norfolk Southern freight trains raises valid concerns about passenger safety. While sharing rail lines can be an efficient use of infrastructure, it is important to consider the potential risks associated with such arrangements. The safety of passengers and the general public should always be the top priority in any transportation planning, and it is up to the responsible authorities to ensure that the necessary safety measures are in place to minimize the risks of train derailments and other incidents.

Story by RFHC Staff.

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