2 Investigates

Hundreds of train accidents, derailments have happened in Georgia. What’s being done to protect you?

ATLANTA — Trains carrying hazardous material travel through metro Atlanta and North Georgia on a daily basis. Just in the three months since the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, critics told Channel 2 investigative reporter Sophia Choi if the train industry does not make major changes, more accidents will happen.

Gwinnett County resident Douglas Cowan told Choi a train derailed in his backyard in October of 2020.

One of the cars exploded, jolting him out of bed. Investigators found heavy rain flooded out the tracks, leading to the accident where about thirty cars overturned.

“It was a mess. We had cars all up and down here piled up three high,” Cowan said.

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Cowan and his neighbors had to leave their homes after chemicals began leaking from a tanker. Nearly three years later, CSX continues work to fix the tracks.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers is the largest union representing rail workers.

The chief of safety for the group, Jared Cassity, spoke to Channel 2 Action News saying the rail industry is compromising safety through a concept called precision scheduled railroading.

“That had a devastating impact on the way things work when it comes to safety in the industry. Basically, the name of it was to cut resources as much as possible,” Cassity said.

He told Choi, while cutting resources they grew the length of trains. Some are now two to three miles long. So long, congress requested a safety review.


The review cited a 2017 CSX derailment in Northwest Atlanta. The train rammed through a house on Andrews Street, hurting the owner. Investigators said the nearly two-and-a-half mile length of the train contributed to the accident.

Choi also spoke with a retired locomotive engineer. Scott Wilcox pointed out longer trains, typically means shorter inspection times. He said inspectors used to walk the length of the trains on foot, but not anymore.

“Mostly what they do is drive alongside it in a pickup truck,” said Wilcox.

Union leaders say they are also doing it with fewer workers. They cite 30% reduction in recent years. Cassity told Channel 2 Action News they have “been screaming in the bull horn about this for almost seven years now.”

Data from the federal railroad association says between 2013 and 2022, Georgia had 545 train accidents. The Association of American Railroads says rail safety actually improved over the years.

In a statement, a spokesperson wrote “Locomotive technology advancements, infrastructure improvements, and operating practices allow for longer and more efficiently controlled trains.”

Allan Zarembski, who runs the railroad safety program at the University of Delaware told Channel 2 Action News “if properly equipped, if properly operated, I don’t think it’s fundamentally less safe.”

Zarembski also noted train derailments are “expensive and disrupts operations. Nobody wants a derailment”.