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Editorial: Trains fairly safe, but...

In the 1978 movie “Superman,” the hero saves Lois Lane and other members of the media from a plane crash. He then says, “I hope this experience hasn't put any of you off flying. Statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel.”

Train transportation — cargo and passenger — also is relatively safe.

As the July 20-21 front page story stated, 99.99 percent of BNSF Railway’s hazardous material shipments arrived at their destinations without incident in 2012. That’s reassuring since BNSF trains cruise along the Mississippi River day and night.

But the industry standard is 91 percent, and three weeks ago Lac-Megantic, Quebec, became part of the 9 percent when a Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train carrying North Dakota Bakken crude oil derailed and exploded. At least 50 people died. The historic downtown is no more.

Crude from those same oil fields travels through local river communities daily. Some trains are more than a mile long.

We’ve had train derailments here, although they’ve been fairly minor. We’ve also had a railroad tanker drip anhydrous ammonia and force evacuations.

A tragic accident clearly could happen here.

We’re fortunate that Red Wing has an emergency management plan in place and has tested it, both in practice and in reality with relatively minor derailments and hazardous waste leaks. Goodhue and Pierce counties also place a premium on emergency preparedness.

We can’t take the plan, the first responders or the risk for granted. No plan, however comprehensive, can contain the damage and our community heroes are mere mortals.

No, Superman, Lac-Megantic’s tragedy hasn’t put us off railways, but we must live in reality.