Is the problem on the rails or in the rails?

posted by Merlin Siefken on Thursday, March 23, 2017

I was reading a Reuters Media article dated March 15, 2017 entitled “New, safer U.S. rail cars gather dust even as ethanol trains grow longer”.  The article referred to the recent spill of ethanol from a unit train derailment in northwest Iowa.  A unit train was described in the article as being a mile long with about 100 rail cars – dubbed “rolling pipelines”.


While I don’t disagree with the information presented in the article, I was surprised that not a single mention was made of the real problem.  Why did the cars leave the tracks?  If the rail cars stay on the tracks, the condition and type of rail car wouldn’t be a factor.

You can’t blame the shippers for using the lower cost rail cars if they are available.  They have a responsibility to safely produce and load their product onto the rail cars.  It is not their job to keep the cars on the rails.  Maybe somebody should be looking at the economic benefit of maintaining a rail system that is less likely to cause derailments.

Even if everyone switched over to the more expensive “safer” cars, a derailment is still likely to cause significant damage to property and endanger lives.  If your sitting at a rail crossing and a derailed rail car is heading straight for your vehicle, you probably won’t be thinking “I hope that is a safe car”.

One of the things that impresses me most about the Decision Innovation Team is their insight and skill in identifying the real problem instead of focusing on important but secondary symptoms.  Our clients appreciate the efforts we make to fully understand a situation enabling them to explore innovative options.  Some of our most recent project bids were won by providing additional insight on the subject.

In other words, we may help you improve your rail car, but we are more likely to change your focus to fixing the rails they ride on.

About The Author

Merlin Siefken

Merlin Siefken contracts with Decision Innovation Solutions to provide Business Development services. He is responsible for maintaining and enhancing existing business relationships, conducting research of new product lines and service offerings, collaborating with the Decision Innovation Solutio ... read more