Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rail Borne Chemical Threat to Super Bowl?

An Indianapolis TV station’s web site is reporting that CSX will halt rail traffic past the Lucas Oil Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday this year. The tracks run within a block of the stadium, and train traffic will not be allowed on those tracks starting about 3 hours before game time until after the Stadium is emptied after the game. The fear is, of course, that a hazardous material leak (accidental or deliberate) that close to the game site could put thousands of people at risk.

Okay, a pause to allow our friends from Green Peace and other environmental activist organizations to ask “What about the thousands of people who live and work along that same line every day?”

Accidental Releases

They are, of course, correct in that anyone living within a certain distance of a railroad track is placed at increased risk of exposure to any hazardous chemical that is being carried in any of the rail cars. The amount of increased risk is infinitesimal; railroads have a very enviable safety record either in the absolute number of fatal chemical incidents or the number of releases per ton-mile of hazardous material transported. Only pipelines have a better overall safety record.

If the risk is sooo small, why are they stopping the train traffic on game day? A small part of the reason is that even an infinitesimal risk is way too high when you are dealing with high-profile events like the Super Bowl. Even a relatively small and hardly dangerous leak of a moderately toxic chemical along the nearest point of approach to the Stadium (named after an oil company, how ironic) would result in the game being stopped and the stadium being evacuated. That would kill Indianapolis’ chance of ever getting another high profile event in their fair city.

Deliberate Attacks

The real reason has nothing to do with accidental releases. If that were the case, those trains would be stopped every time the Colts play at home. It hasn’t happened. It won’t happen. No one is concerned with accidental releases. It is a terrorist attack converting one or more of those railcars to chemical weapons, improvised explosive devices or flame weapon that keeps the CSX security people awake at night as Super Bowl Sunday approaches.

Now the risk of a successful terrorist attack (defined as resulting in a catastrophic failure of the railcar tank resulting in impressive off-site consequences; death and destruction) on a rail car is relatively low. The cars are made of very thick, welded metal, that was designed to resist damage in normal handling and low speed derailments. A portable explosive device designed to take out such hardened targets are not available via Terror-U-Online; it requires the services of an explosives engineer, lots of hands-on time with a stationary vehicle. Oh yes, they have to be large enough to be readily detectable.

Unless, of course, one were to place the device inside of the sealed and filled railcar. But that’s a topic of a completely different post.

Partially Successful Attack

Of course, a successful attack doesn’t really have to be successful to be successful, if you get my meaning (of course you don’t, I’m being entirely too cute, but I will explain). If a targeted release of a chemical (and it wouldn’t even have to be really hazardous) were visible to the news teams covering the game, the security advisors for the event would have to immediately begin evacuation procedures even before they knew the actual nature of the release. There would be wide spread panic resulting in potentially hundreds of deaths or serious injuries; all in front of the eyes of the world.

And that is the reason that CSX is stopping the flow of all rail cars by Lucas Oil Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday, but letting them flow the other 365 days of 2012.

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