Rail disasters: profits before safety
Written by: Nick G. on 4 March 2023
(Above: the Tempi, Greece train wreck. Photo source: KKE-ML website)
Train wrecks do not happen very often, but when they do, the disaster is often on a grand scale.
Below we feature comments on the Ohio, USA and Tempi, Greece disasters from working class parties in those countries.
Both occurred in rail lines under private ownership. Publicly-owned rail lines are not immune to such disasters. Australians will remember the Granville disaster of 18 January 1977 which caused the loss of 83 lives. When public infrastructure is run by governments looking to cut costs, the interests of the public and of the employees are bound to suffer. The primary cause of the Granville disaster was insufficient spending on maintenance, leading to poor fastening of the track.
The February 3 train wreck in East Palestine, Ohio occurred after rail operator Norfolk Southern, along with other rail companies, had successfully lobbied for the repeal of rules requiring electronically controlled pneumatic brakes on trains carrying hazardous materials. In the aftermath of the disaster, the company was accused of prioritizing $10 billion in stock buybacks for shareholders over maintenance.
The train that derailed in February carrying vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether. Emergency crews conducted a controlled burn of the spill at the request of state officials, which released hydrogen chloride and phosgene into the air requiring the evacuation of thousands of residents.
A comment from the Freedom Road Socialist Organisation follows:
February 15, 2023
Statement by the Climate Justice Committee, Minnesota
In East Palestine, Ohio, decades of corporate and government negligence have culminated in a horrifying and entirely avoidable environmental catastrophe, the consequences of which we have only just begun to see.
On February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train hauling a massive payload of toxic chemicals derailed and exploded just outside the small town of East Palestine. For three days, the chemical-soaked wreckage burned, and then on February 6 the authorities ordered a so-called “controlled release” to avoid an even bigger explosion. As they detonated the remains, a column of noxious smoke jetted up into the sky, saturating the air and blanketing the landscape for dozens of miles in each direction with potent carcinogens and irritants.
Two days after the “controlled release”, the official evacuation order was lifted, and residents returned home with the assurance that it was safe. Despite this assurance, we are already seeing massive die-offs of fish in the Ohio River and nearby streams, as well as of chickens, cattle, pets, and birds as far as 100 miles from the crash site. Reports of children and adults who have become suddenly ill are also widespread.
The derailment is attributed to long-outdated brakes that the rail workers union had been trying to replace, until Biden stepped and sided with railroad companies against the workers – now, Biden’s corporate collusion has resulted in an environmental disaster.
The February 28 disaster in Greece occurred on a rail network, OSE, that had been privatised. Most of the dead were young people. The Communist Party of Greece (Marxist-Leninist), in the statement that follows, calls for the overturning of the policy of privatisation. We support that call, but add that governments that own public infrastructure must be forced by public pressure to prioritise safety over budget bottom lines.
The train accident that occurred late at night on 28 February in the area of Tempi, with the fierce collision of the two trains and which led to the tragic death of dozens of passengers, most of them young children, gives rise to unspeakable sadness and anger.
The unjust loss of so many people from the unprecedented - for the railway annals - accident is not due to the "bad moment". It is the result of the policy pursued over time for more than two decades by all the governments of ND, PASOK and SYRIZA. That policy that first muddied and dispersed OSE, the public organization of the railways, presenting it as "deficient" and as a "burden" for the Greek people. And all this in order to gild the "pill", to pave the way for its sale to local and foreign interests to the famous "investors".
ND – SYRIZA and PASOK are fully responsible for the regime of degradation and abandonment of the railway network, the absence of modern traffic control systems, while a handful of private companies of Greek and Italian interests are making untold profits from the commercial exploitation of the railway networks. For more than twenty years, the governments of PASOK, ND and SYRIZA have consistently served the policy of privatization, giving impetus to the sale of OSE and so many other public bodies (PPC, OTE, etc.). It is no coincidence that both Tsipras and Androulakis, on the wreckage of the accident, rushed to meaningfully declare that "this is not the time to apportion blame", thus disguising the complicit policy of SYRIZA and PASOK that contributed to the current tragedy.
A tragic irony is both the announcements of TRAINOSE employees, who denounced the abandonment regime, referring to an "accident that is coming", as well as the European Commission itself, which just two weeks earlier (February 15th) referred the country to the European courts on charges of deficient safety measures in our country's railway network. Otherwise, Kostas Karamanlis (now former) Minister of Transport of the ND government provocatively declared on February 20 from the floor of the Parliament that "we do not play with the safety of passengers on trains".
Today the Greek people, the families of the dozens of dead and hundreds of injured are experiencing the criminal -literally- consequences of the policy of all the governments of ND – SYRIZA – PASOK over time. The crocodile tears shed in front of the television lenses by government officials and Mitsotakis, the pompous statements about "apportioning blame", the resignations of ministers, but also the orchestrated attempt to present the accident solely as a "human error" are the provocative attempt to cover up and embellish their policy.
The M-L KKE denounces the policy of privatization and selling off of OSE, which are fervently served by both the current government of ND and the previous ones of SYRIZA and PASOK. It calls on the people to turn their anger and suffering into a mass struggle to overturn the policy of privatisation.
We express our sorrow and heartfelt condolences to the families of the wronged passengers of the fatal train.
Press Office of the M-L KKE
March 1, 2023
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