Freight trains more than a mile long could be banned in a number of US states after paramedics were prevented from reaching a dying baby while waiting at a level crossing.
It took emergency services half an hour to reach the home of the three-month-old boy, who had stopped breathing, due to the delay in Leggett, Texas.
The infant died in hospital two days later.
“Unfortunately, the delay has cost my child’s life,” his mother Monica Franklin, 34, told the Washington Post.
She has since launched legal action against train operator Union Pacific following the tragedy in September 2021.
On another occasion in the same town, paramedics could not reach a man who suffered a stroke for an hour after being held up at a crossing.
Deaths attributed to similar delays have also been reported in Tennessee and Oklahoma.
It comes amid growing concern at how trains in the US have been getting longer over the past decade, testing the patience of residents living near crossings.
Federal regulators are also coming under increasing pressure to clamp down on the length of freight trains, which can cause additional delays when they come to a complete stop to switch crews.
Several states – including Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada and Washington – have all now proposed limiting train lengths.
There have been 1,400 cases since 2019 in which emergency responders have reported delays caused by lengthy freight trains, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
But the rail industry has defended the policy and lobbied against limits being imposed. It argues that curbs would increase greenhouse gas emissions.
Longer trains and record earnings
However critics believe the trains have been lengthened by companies in order to slash staff numbers and generate more profit.
The two largest railway companies – BNSF Railway and Union Pacific – have reported record earnings.
Two years ago, the Biden administration agreed to fund a $2 million (£1.6 million) study into the impact of trains longer than 7,500 feet – just over 1.4 miles – by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Public unease about longer trains intensified after the massive chemical spill following a derailment at East Palestine, Ohio, in February.
There are an average of 1,000 derailments a year and other major incidents in recent months have been reported at Anacortes, Washington, and Springfield, Ohio.
It is not just trackside communities voicing concern.
Railroad Workers United, the industry’s main union, has long been campaigning for curbs.
“The goal is to reverse the long-running trend whereby the rail carriers assemble ever longer and heavier trains which are dangerous to railroad workers, pedestrians and motorists, trackside communities, the environment, and society in general,” it said.
The FRA has stopped short of calling for limiting the length of trains, but has called for additional training.
“A locomotive engineer cannot be expected to safely operate in a more demanding service without proper additional training that covers the unique challenges and complexities those trains present,” it said in its latest guidance.
While the proportion of people travelling by train in the US is lower than in the UK, the opposite applies to goods.
Some 28 per cent of freight in the US is shipped by rail, compared with about nine per cent in the UK, according to latest figures.
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