I mourn for the hundreds of people who have been directly affected by a the fiery explosion on June 29, 2009 that was caused when a train axle broke in Viareggio, a small city on the west coast of Italy, about 100 km southwest of Bologna. The broken axle caused the train to derail and overturn. The train’s cargo included contained 14 cars of liquified petroleum gas (also known as Propane, the friendly gas that is often advertised as an electricity competitor for tasks like cooking and heating water).
One of the LPG cars leaked following the accident and resulted in an explosion that collapsed at least five nearby buildings and produced dramatic and deadly columns of flame and smoke. Fortunately, the other 13 cars full of LPG remained intact and quick action by first responders kept the situation reasonably well contained.
According to a New York Times web site (story 10 of 28 in today’s World section) article titled Death Toll Rises to 17 in Italy Train Derailment the explosion occurred near midnight in a populated area. The current death toll includes at least two small children; in addition to the 17 people who have already died, 12 of the 34 people who were injured are in serious condition with severe burns. Most of the people affected were peacefully sleeping at the time that the train rumbled through their neighborhood.
My guess is that the train and its cargo were routine guests in the neighborhood; large LPG customers usually have regular deliveries of their consumable product. The research questions I have for Atomic Insights readers are as follows:
- Does your local media consider a large LPG explosion in a populated neighborhood causing significant property destruction and a resulting in a double digit death toll to be newsworthy?
- Are they still providing any updated reports three days after the accident?
- Do you think such an accident will result in any major effort to reroute trains carrying LPG away from populated areas, add safety features to LPG rail cars, or alter plans to build new homes with appliances that burn LPG?
- Do you think there will be any widespread effort to remind people of the obvious hazard of trains pulling cars full of flammable, volatile liquids through an annual series of news stories every June 29th?
Just in case your local media does not provide much in the way of coverage, you can find some pretty dramatic photos of the fire and the derailment aftermath linked from the BBC article titled Italians killed as train explodes.
Update: Posted July 2, 2009 at 1706 EDT – Just in case you believe that lack of dramatic footage or commentary is the reason that such an accident does not get as much play as it would if there were nuclear materials involved, take a good look at this story – Italy train investigation begins.
Update: Posted July 5, 2009 at 1439 EDT – Taiwan News is reporting that the death toll has increased to 22 following the death of some of the injured. Italian train derailment death toll rises to 22. The BBC has a similar story at Italian train crash toll up to 22. Not surprisingly, I am having some difficulty finding similar accident updates in US mainstream media sources.
Aside from my concerns about the very real human suffering taking place without much notice in Italy, one of the reasons that I am personally interested in this accident is that every day on my way to and from work I drive under a rail line overpass that often contains tanker cars full of either LPG or other petroleum products. I frequently get a very good look at the cars as I creep home in rush hour traffic. A crazy “what if” sometimes comes to mind knowing how each car in the line of traffic contains its own little petroleum bomb.