Federal push follows derailment in Ohio in February
LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Democratic Nevada Rep. Dina Titus cited the 8 News Now Investigators’ reporting while pressing the president of a railroad trade group about safety on trains going through Las Vegas.
An 8 News Now Investigators’ report found neither the Federal Railroad Administration, nor any government agency, could say what specific hazardous materials the trains, some traveling right through Las Vegas, are carrying.
The American Association of Railroads’ fact sheet about what commodities run through Nevada was “redacted to preserve confidentiality.”
“What the trains are carrying is not shared with local jurisdictions,” a spokesperson for the City of Las Vegas said.
“We are required by federal law to transport chemicals and other hazardous commodities that Americans use daily, including fertilizer, ethanol, crude oil and chlorine,” a spokesperson for Union Pacific, the company operating the railroad, said.
Clark County, Las Vegas and Henderson have specific plans and specialized teams in place should a Hazmat rail emergency occur. The county’s emergency plans, published in January 2022, use data as old as 2005 with no specifics about what chemicals are on the trains.
Instead, the emergency plan includes a phone number for a railroad representative to call about specific shipments in the event of a Hazmat response. Representatives from Union Pacific add their trains are safe and there are measures in place to ensure safety on the tracks. The company has a 24/7/365 response center, a spokesperson said, and advises emergency responders to use an app to learn what is being transported in an emergency.
“You know those train lines go right down the Strip, right behind the Strip, right through the heart of town, but I hear from Las Vegas that maybe you’re notifying the state, and they have a person at the fusion center but they don’t seem to be getting that information,” Titus asked the trade group’s president and CEO, Ian Jeffries. “How can we improve that?”
“That’s something that I would love to sit down and talk more with your office about, because we want to make sure the right people are getting it,” Jeffries told Titus. “If they’re not getting it, let’s work and make sure that’s going to occur.”
Jeffries noted the emergency responder app for specific information.
Over the past 10 years, 43 trains have derailed in Nevada, according to the FRA. Just one derailment involved what the agency calls a Hazmat release. The report for that derailment, which occurred at a slow speed in a rail yard, only said it involved an “alcohol of unknown amount.”
Following February’s train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, leaders in Congress began working on new legislation to beef up federal regulation and security. One measure, called the DERAIL Act, would ensure railroad companies follow certain safety precautions.
Both Titus and Democratic Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto have expressed their concerns about any proposals to transport nuclear material on railroad tracks through Nevada, specifically to Yucca Mountain. The Biden Administration previously promised to abandon a plan to store federal waste there.
Alongside the DERAIL Act, Assembly Bill 456 in Carson City would limit train length to 7,500 feet and ensure sensors on tracks. The bill passed the Assembly and was working through the Nevada Senate.