Reasons for Concern

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There are many reasons to be concerned about the railroad’s plans:

  • Transportation of Hazardous Materials
  • Derailments
  • Unit Trains
  • Air Pollution
  • Noise Pollution
  • Public Road Safety Hazards
  • Taking Private Property by Eminent Domain
  • Vibrations Weakening Home’s Foundation

Transportation of Hazardous Materials

Norfolk Southern currently transports these materials daily through Pittsburgh:

  • Petrochemicals
  • Fracking Sand
  • Human Waste
  • Radioactive Waste
  • Oil and Gas
  • Chlorine
  • Hydrochloric Acid
  • Androgynous Ammonia



Here are the major causes of train derailments:

  • Increased weight and vibrations
    • The trains are travelling over 100-year-old-brick sewer and water lines at risk of collapse because their mortar has degraded from acid rain.
  • Higher center of gravity
    • University of Utah study documented that double-stacked trains have a higher center of gravity and are less stable than traditional single cars—as we witnessed during the accident on the Southside in August 2018.
  • Increased length of trains coupled with 90-degree turns
    • Norfolk Southern is in the process of doubling the length of its trains from the current 1½ miles to 3 miles, and there are fourteen 90-degree turns (3 of which are within 1½ miles of each other) along the proposed route through the city to the East End.  Longer plus taller trains traversing this zig-zag pattern increases the likelihood of a derailment.
  • Human error
    • A train travelling at excessive speed, inattention by the engineer due to alcohol, fatigue or distraction, can all contribute to human error.
  • High rainfall
    • High rainfall can overwhelm the drainage system and cause the rails to go out of alignment.
  • Rotted railroad ties
    • Norfolk Southern has admitted installing 5 million rail ties under its tracks that, in their own words are “inherently dangerous” because they were not waterproofed, are prone to more quickly rot, and they don’t know exactly where along the route they’ve been installed.

Unit Trains

Unit Train

Years ago, crude oil was transported in “manifest” trains, which mingled oil tankers with cars carrying grain, manufactured products, and other goods.  Now we have “unit trains” which carry just one cargo – mostly highly volatile crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation – and these trains may have 100 cars or more.  About 25 of these oil-by-rail trains move weekly through Pittsburgh currently.  On average, more than 2.8 billion gallons per year come through Pittsburgh to the East Coast refineries, representing 40% – 50% of all of the oil going to the East Coast.  Unit Trains pass through the densely populated Northside, Downtown Pittsburgh, Oakland, the East End, Wilkinsburg, on to Braddock, while passing critical infrastructure such as hospitals, power plants, telephone switching facilities, schools, nursing homes, fire stations, sports stadiums and the Convention Center.

Because of Unit Trains, we now face the prospect of a 1-2 mile-long train carrying 2 to 4 million gallons of oil igniting a massive conflagration.  When oil cars explode, the flames they produce are so hot that firefighters almost inevitably choose to let them burn out – which can take days – rather than to extinguish them.

Running inherently unstable double-stacked trains on the same line as volatile “unit trains” through densely populated areas presents a significant risk of harm to residents.

Unit Train Explosion

Air Pollution

Trains Equal Busses

Even more worrisome than a derailment is air pollution caused by trains because it is constant – three times worse, yet this risk escapes policy makers’ attention because it is not sensational like a derailment.  Norfolk Southern says that hauling by rail results in less pollution than by truck, but trains concentrate their pollution over a very small area, affecting a sizable population.

University of Pittsburgh analysts conservatively determined that in terms of air pollution, a volume of 100 trains/day at their current length and weight is equivalent to a minimum of 6,800 diesel busses driving past your doorstep every day.

Locomotives continually emit black carbon and greenhouse gasses that are proven to cause:

  • Higher Rates of Asthma
  • Lung Cancer
  • Decreased Lung Function in Children
  • Increased Hospital Admissions and Premature Death Due To:
    • Heart Attacks
    • Respiratory Illness

Noise Pollution

Train noise is generated by the amount of weight borne by the train’s wheels, and the noise is exacerbated if the tracks are curved.

Public Road Safety Hazards

Raising vehicular bridges can diminish sight lines along the roads that lead up to them.  This is particularly an issue at the Brighton Road/West North Avenue bridge on the Northside, where first responders often speed through the intersection and pedestrians (many of them elderly) attempt to cross the street.

In fact, PennDOT has stated that the West North Avenue bridge does not currently meet safety standards at its current height.

Taking Private Property by Eminent Domain

Railroads have the right of eminent domain, and raising approaches to bridges can result in a taking of private property, and can inhibit access to driveways and doorways—of particular concern for older residents and the disabled.

Vibrations Weakening Home’s Foundation

Buildings near the train route must withstand vibrations from passing trains which can weaken the structure’s foundation and subsurface infrastructure.