Toxic trains: What’s really loaded on board trains rolling through Colorado Springs

Under current law, railroads are not required to provide a heads up of what’s on board a train at any given time.
Published: May. 26, 2023 at 7:01 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Every day, tons of hazardous materials roll right through Southern Colorado unnoticed by most, with trains transporting everything from crude oil to radioactive material on state railways.

However, as 11 News Anchor Matt Kroschel learned when asking how HAZMAT crews prepare for rail accidents, first responders usually don’t learn what’s on board these trains until after a potential rail incident occurs.

“We rarely get notified about particular chemicals that are coming through the city,” John Roy with the Colorado Springs Fire Department said.

If an incident were to occur in a five-county area surrounding Colorado Springs, the city’s HAZMAT team would be some of the first to respond. These teams train for situations like this, but under current law, they’re acting at a disadvantage when they occur.

“We are running through these scenarios every single day,” Roy said. “We pick a random chemical and we say, ‘how would we plan for this sort of event?’”

Since the State Termination Act of the mid ‘90s, federal law abolished the Interstate Commerce Commission. With it, a lot of the oversight went away, and under current law, railroads are not required to provide a heads up of what’s on board a train at any given time. Both HAZMAT crews and state regulators cannot tell at any one point what’s loaded on board these trains, and they say that that information would make preparing for potential incidents a lot easier.

“Larger scale,” Roy said, “I don’t think it would be bad for the public to understand what’s going through our city.”

Following the East Palestine Ohio train derailment, a new federal bi-partisan effort is underway to help states like Colorado better respond to these crashes. The proposed act would force a top-to-bottom review of the nation’s railway system, increase funding for HAZMAT teams, increase penalties for rail safety regulation violations and force an increase in inspections.

11 News reached out to BNSF, which operates almost all train traffic through our region, with questions related to this report. The company did not respond to multiple requests for a response.