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A Parked & Unattended Rail Car Was Recently Set in Motion By A Teen, Sending The Car Barreling Down City Streets At Nearly 40 MPH; Train Crashed Into Utica’s Union Station, Causing Over $1 Million In Damages

Many Lives Could Have Been Put At Risk – Schumer Says FRA Must Review Safety Procedures To Ensure Unattended Trains Can No Longer Be Put Into Motion By Bystanders Or Potentially Used To Inflict Harm On Communities

Schumer To Feds: Unattended Freight Trains Need To Be Locked & Secured

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to review its policies and procedures surrounding unattended trains, in order to better protect residents from runaway rail cars. This comes on the heels of a July incident in Oneida County in which an unmanned train car was set free by a teenager, and proceeded to barrel three miles down the tracks through busy neighborhoods, causing a minor injury before ultimately crashing into Utica’s Union Station. Schumer explained that this crash not only caused more than $1 million worth in damage, but it also put countless lives in danger despite the fact that the runaway train miraculously avoided causing serious injury or death. Schumer is urging the FRA to complete a thorough review of safety procedures and develop additional safeguards to ensure a similar event does not repeat itself.

“The fact that this accident did not seriously injure anyone is nothing short of a miracle,” said Schumer. “But questions still remain over how an unattended freight car could be so easily accessed and sent barreling into a busy community. If a 13-year-old could do it with such ease, imagine what an individual wishing to inflict harm on local residents could do.”

Schumer said the FRA should consider various changes to current policy, including installing locks on rail car hand brakes, requiring more redundant braking systems, and other best practices, to prevent people from being able to access a train, and send a car rolling into busy neighborhoods. In addition, Schumer is urging the FRA to then share the results of their assessment and investigation, as well as other information surrounding the incident, with Oneida County officials to ensure their concerns about the safety of residents and property are addressed.

On July 21, a parked, unattended freight car was released by a local 13-year-old and sent rolling three miles down the tracks, from under the Burrstone Road overpass all the way to Union Station in Utica. Officials report that while the teen was climbing a ladder on the side of the train, he stepped on what is called a “quick release” lever. When this happened, tension on the wheel was released, which sent the 132-ton freight car barreling down the tracks and through multiple residential neighborhoods. The rail car ultimately crashed into Union Station, causing minor injuries to one person. In addition, this crash caused more than $1 million in damage to the county-owned building. Schumer said that while, fortunately, no one was killed or seriously injured, the event raises serious concerns about how secure rail cars are and how easy it is to access them if left unattended. Schumer said although, in this case, the train was accessed by a 13-year-old who did not intend to cause harm, unattended trains pose a significant risk to nearby residents if someone wishing to cause serious destruction were to gain access to an unlocked, unmanned train car. Schumer said it could be a disastrous situation if one were to unlock a train in a similar fashion and direct it towards homes and other populated areas.

After conducting a review following the accident, the FRA concluded that all standard procedures were followed. However, Schumer explained, both he and Oneida County officials and residents find it very concerning that an accident like this could occur even when proper procedures were followed. As a result, he is calling on the FRA to conduct a review of how freight car brake systems could be more effective and whether additional safeguards are needed to protect unattended cars from trespassers. Schumer suggested locks on freight car hand brakes, to prevent people from being able to access a train, as one solution that could help prevent dangerous crashes like this again in the future. While trespassing on railroad tracks and equipment is already illegal, incidents like this make it clear that additional safeguards are needed to protect communities from runaway trains. Finally, Schumer called for enhanced communication between federal safety regulators and county officials in order to coordinate future investigations. Schumer said the results of this investigation should be made public so Oneida County officials can better protect neighborhoods and residents’ property from these dangers.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the FRA appears below:

Dear Acting Administrator Feinberg:

I write in regards to the train car derailment that recently took place in the City of Utica. Oneida County officials are concerned that such an incident could have happened so easily and deserve answers as to how their community will be better protected in the future. I urge you to review the current policies and procedures regarding the securement of an unattended train or train car, and to develop additional safeguards to ensure that incidents like this do not happen again.

As you know, on July 21, a parked, unattended freight car was set free by a teenager, sending the car barreling down the tracks. The train car rolled down the tracks on busy city streets, passing through multiple neighborhoods in the middle of rush hour. While the train car did cause one minor injury as well as significant damage when it crashed into Union Station, thankfully nobody was seriously injured or killed. According to news reports, the 265,000 pound train car was travelling at approximately forty miles per hour when it crashed into an antique locomotive and a staircase at Union Station, causing over $1 million in damage to the county owned building.

Initial FRA reports have indicated that the railroad, New York Susquehanna and Western Railway, followed proper procedure when securing the unattended rail car. However, I, and many members of the Utica community, find it concerning that an incident like this could occur even when the proper procedures were followed. Therefore, I urge you to undertake a thorough review of the current policies and procedures around securing unattended trains and train cars, and to implement updated requirements for railroads to better protect against this type of incident, like requiring a lock on the hand brake, or additional redundant braking systems. I also ask that you share the results of this assessment, as well as other information surrounding the incident, with Oneida County Officials. With media reports being their main source of information, they have deep concerns about the safety of their residents and property.

It should not be so easy to tamper with the brakes on an unattended train; if a thirteen-year-old was able to send a 130 ton rail car barreling down the tracks through busy neighborhoods, an individual wishing to cause destruction could do the same. I appreciate the FRA’s recent actions to prevent unattended trains carrying hazardous materials from rolling away, and I believe that the FRA should take additional steps to ensure that railroads properly secure all trains, so that incidents like the one in Utica will not happen again.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue. Should you need further information please do not hesitate to contact my office.


Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator