Three major train accidents occurred over the past two weeks across the United States.   The first accident occurred in the NY/NJ Path subway system when a train crashed into the bumper at the end of the station in Hoboken, N.J.; injuring 34 passengers.  In the second incident, an empty Amtrak train derailed in the East River Tunnel between Manhattan and Queens in New York City, causing major service disruptions. Near Portland, Oregon, two trains derailed and one caught fire, while transporting liquid ethanol; the ensuing fire was seen a mile away.

All of these accidents occurred after an advisory by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warning of al-Qa’ida’s interest in attacking the U.S. rail sector.  The advisory also warned emergency responders to be aware of tampering devices meant to derail trains as the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks approach.

While these incidents were not terrorism related, they did demonstrate how quickly our rail systems can collapse if critical nodes and links are compromised.

Fire fighters and all emergency responders must be aware of and look for sabotage indicators such as misplaced derailers, clips, rails, spikes, or heavy debris on track beds. Rail accidents will demand a large emergency response, and such emergency incidents can be further complicated by remote locations and mass casualties.