I love my home. I have lived in Eugene my entire life. Every night I rest my head on my pillow in the Whitaker as I have since I was a boy. The only other neighborhood I have lived in is Jefferson Westside. My cousins currently live in West Eugene. Comprised of Bethel and Trainsong neighborhoods these communities span a large area of Eugene. At the edge of my neighborhood begins Trainsong. The Chambers overpass divides the Whiteaker and Trainsong neighborhoods. I spent many summers there as a child playing with my cousins, and a few Halloweens trick or treating.
On one Halloween evening spent in beloved Trainsong with my family, I remember walking towards a house with a green light. The mind of a young boy is filled with fears, one of mine was a fear of witches. To my horror a witch stepped out from the doorway.
Adrenaline kicked in and I ran for my life. While I still remember that night as if it was yesterday, most of us outgrow our fears and develop new ones. A fear of young women dressed as witches certainly isn’t one of them.
On Sunday, September 25th I was driving over the chambers overpass and saw something that terrified me to my core. Having just eaten dinner with friends I went from being in a good mood to screaming in horror. My brain couldn’t process what I was seeing. I saw 13 train cars derailed in the Trainsong railyard near Roosevelt and Garfield. With their red and blue sirens flashing brightly, police blocked off both Roosevelt and the northwest expressway. Fire trucks from around the city were there. People in Hazmat suits were scattered across the railyard working frantically. The railyard went from being a place where only trains and homeless folks could be found to a full-fledged crime scene. Because this was a crime scene. It was a scene where anyone could see the irresponsibility of corporations and the lack of governmental accountability, unfolding right before our eyes. According to reports I heard after I arrived home, one of the train cars was filled with liquefied petroleum gas that could have exploded. Had that happened, the derailments could have potentially left hundreds, if not thousands, dead. A partial evacuation of the area occurred and traffic was delayed for hours.
Beyond Toxics has been advocating for environmental justice in West Eugene for years. It is no secret that West Eugene has 99% of polluting industry in their backyard. It is no secret that people who live in Trainsong live with the threat of noxious fumes from industry and idling trains near their homes—every day. It is no secret that West Eugene has the highest concentration of children, elderly, folks with disabilities, and people of color. The people who live in the Trainsong and Bethel neighborhoods have terribly poor access to medical clinics, grocery stores, public transportation, green space, parks, and living wage jobs. Politically speaking, the Bethel neighborhood has some of the lowest membership in their neighborhood councils, while the Trainsong council has not been active for over 3 years. This is not by accident. Historical forces have shaped this perfect storm in which the most vulnerable to these catastrophic disasters are the least equipped to deal with them.
Had any of those trains been filled with crude oil, had any of them exploded, anything within a mile of the initial blast would be in flames. As Halloween approaches I am more afraid of the possibility of a crude-oil train derailment than anything I will see on TV or on our streets. You should be too.