Moving hazardous chemicals by train is far safer than trucks, says top regulator who pushed merger and wants more freight moved by rail

John Lippert and Sarah Freishtat, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

Not even the toxic fireball over an Ohio derailment could shake Martin Oberman’s belief that railroads are a safer way to move hazardous chemicals, and most other freight, than long-haul trucks.

“Would you rather have your family and your SUV driving down the highway at 75 miles an hour next to a truck filled with chlorine, and the guy doing the driving who didn’t get enough sleep, or would you rather have that chlorine on a railroad?” asked Oberman, the nation’s most influential train regulator, during an interview with the Chicago Tribune last week.

“The answer is pretty obvious,” said Oberman, chairman of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

On March 15, less than six weeks after the East Palestine, Ohio, calamity and amid increasing congressional scrutiny of rail safety, Oberman led the transportation board in approving the first big railroad merger in a quarter century, one that will have steep repercussions for Chicago-area communities. And he cited safety as one of his chief reasons for doing so.

Oberman, a former Chicago alderman and former chairman of Metra, the Chicago metropolitan rail system, insisted during the interview that he and other board members had worked hard to balance the concerns of suburban communities with what he described as the country’s overwhelming economic and environmental imperative to move more freight on railroads.

Less than 1% of hazardous chemical spills occurred on railroads in 2022, compared to 94% for trucks, Oberman said.


Metropolitan Chicago, where elected officials mobilized to block the $31 billion merger between Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern, can expect one additional hazmat spill from the combination every 125 years, the transportation board previously said in a news release.

The merger could shift 64,000 truckloads of freight a year from trucks to trains, the release said, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and bringing new economic vitality to Canadian Pacific — the railroad with the industry’s best safety record.

Even so, Oberman promised seven years of extra STB monitoring after concerns were raised by first responders, commuter railroads and local businesses about the more frequent trains the merger will bring. The board can extend this monitoring if needed, he said.

The Illinois Trucking Association didn’t respond to calls and messages seeking comment.


swipe to next page

©2023 Chicago Tribune. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


blog comments powered by Disqus