On February 3rd, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, causing a massive fire and prompting the evacuation of the town. The derailment resulted in a controlled burn of the toxic chemicals, which produced a plume of smoke that caused breathing issues, tightness in chests, severe headaches, and contaminated drinking water.
The incident led to significant environmental damage, including the death of an estimated 43,000 fish and other aquatic animals. Many residents reported symptoms like nausea, headaches, rashes, and lightheadedness. The evacuation order was lifted a few days later, but people remained concerned about the safety of the area. Residents expressed frustration with the railroad company and the government's response to the incident.
The incident destroyed the town's ecosystem, economy, and its sense of community. The film explores the larger context of rail safety, focusing on the Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) practice that rail companies have adopted to cut costs and increase profits. PSR has led to longer trains, fewer rail workers, and reduced investments in safety measures, which have put the public at risk. The rail industry's focus on profits has come at the expense of public safety and the well-being of rail workers.
Despite warnings from unions and others, safety has not been prioritized, and rail companies have influenced policy to reduce safety measures. This derailment is an example of a tragic pattern of derailments happening all the time, and it highlights the neglect of safety for the sake of executive profits.
The media coverage of the derailment has been inadequate and has largely neglected the responsibility of rail companies in deteriorating safety on the tracks. Additionally, some far-right groups have used the lack of coverage to push a false narrative of discrimination against white conservatives. The documentary argues that the press needs to hold power accountable and that the public deserves control over railway safety.
Directed by: JT Chapman