Growing up near a railroad, I often found comfort in the distant sound of a train whistle at night.  For many,  railroads represent a reason for fear.

This week, an evacuation zone one mile around a fiery train crash in Ohio has disrupted life in the small town of East Palestine.  The photos and videos are scary. Other high-profile train derailments in West Virginia and other parts of the country have disrupted lives for months.


It is impossible to drive through San Angelo without noticing that train tracks run right through the city's heart. It is not hard to imagine a major derailment here could cause big trouble.

Are we prone to a major disaster like those in Ohio?

Texas Pacifico operates the South Orient Railroad, the main rail line heading from the Mexican border at Presidio through San Angelo to Fort Worth. The opening of a new 180-acre San Angelo Rail Park north of the city and the re-establishment of the international rail bridge in Presidio means more rail traffic than ever through our region.


Does this mean more potential for an Ohio-style disaster here in San Angelo?

It can never be ruled out, but there are a few major factors that make this less possible here.

First, the rail lines through our region have all been totally restored in recent years. Basically, the lines are like new.

Secondly, the percentage of volatile freight through our region, basically flammable petroleum products and chemicals is low as represented by this chart from TxDot.

Photo: TxDot
Photo: TxDot

Potentially hazardous cargo accounts for 5% of the total rail cargo moving through our area.

Photo by Ankush Minda on Unsplash
Photo by Ankush Minda on Unsplash

By far, the greatest danger posed by the railroads moving through San Angelo is posed by accidents involving cars or pedestrians along the tracks. It is crucial for everyone to heed all the safety rules involving railroad crossings and while walking along the tracks.

Our hearts go out to communities that have been affected by hazardous derailments involving hazardous chemicals or flammable petrochemicals. It is important for our local leaders and the relevant oversight agencies to continue to monitor our rail lines to ensure the highest standards of safety.It never hurts to have an emergency plan for your family, just in case a dangerous derailment should occur.

Let's hope the sound of a distant train whistle continues to inspire warm familiarity for those of us who regularly hear them here in San Angelo and not feelings of dread.

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