TRANSPORTATION: Rail infrastructure being neglected

It’s beginning to look as though our neglect of the nation’s railway infrastructure is catching up with us.

After a recent series of unsettling incidents in Ohio involving Norfolk Southern Corp., CSX Transportation is now dealing with a derailment and subsequent diesel fuel spill into the New River in Summers County.

In this case, the four locomotives and 22 empty coal cars left the tracks. Three crew members were hurt. The accident was caused by the empty train hitting a rockslide that had not been spotted in time.

The site of the derailment — which is inside the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve — is being monitored by state agencies, and public water systems downstream have been notified to watch for any potential public health impacts.

Our nation’s freight rail infrastructure has been referred to by some experts as “antiquated.” Maintenance and modernization have been a slow process at best. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the mostly privately owned freight rail system a B grade back in 2021.

Couple that with loosened federal railway regulations, and you have a recipe for an increasing number of incidents that will pile up in a way these companies don’t have the resources to make right.

To be fair, railroads in West Virginia have as many turns and ups and down as our roads, as many of them follow our winding rivers. And it is possible the rockslide that caused the derailment was simply too recent an occurrence to be noticed in time.

But the number of recent incidents in our region should certainly give both railroad and governmental officials pause.

Have we done enough? Could these have been prevented? If there is any hesitation in answering such questions, railroad companies are duty bound to take action; and government agencies are duty bound to hold them accountable.


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