REGISTER VIEWPOINT: This shouldn't have needed a senator

Erie County residents may get an answer after all on why a Norfolk Southern train derailed at the Venice Road intersection on Oct. 2
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

Erie County residents may get an answer after all on why a Norfolk Southern train derailed at the Venice Road intersection on Oct. 29 thanks to the efforts of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown.

The Federal Railroad Administration has agreed to conduct its own investigation into why 17 Triple Crown trailers loaded with toilet paper and paper towels derailed.

Initially, the FRA was allowing the Norfolk Southern to conduct its own investigation since the agency doesn't probe train wrecks unless the accident is particularly serious.

Some of the criteria the FRA uses to determine whether to investigate a train accident is if the incident involves serious injury or death, involves the passenger service Amtrak, causes damages in excess of $1 million, if the train was carrying hazardous or nuclear materials or the accident generated "considerable public interest," according to the FRA deputy administrator Clifford Eby.

While it may be debatable whether 17 trailers loaded with toilet paper fits the "hazardous materials" definition, in all seriousness the accident was and is of 'considerable public interest' to the thousands of commuters that pass through that train crossing each day.

Are the tracks safe? Was there human error involved? Was the train overloaded or traveling too fast? Was there a mechanical failure that caused the accident? Is the crossing at Venice Road safe? These are questions to which taxpayers of Erie County deserve an answer.

"Federal investigators shouldn't wait for a tragedy to investigate recurring incidents like this one," Brown said in his letter to the FRA requesting an inquiry. "If there is a systemic problem behind those derailments, we need to identify it."

An FRA spokesman told us requests from senators and congressmen get attention. So kudos to Brown for making the request for a federal probe.

However, we deplore the fact it was necessary for him to do so.