Despite promises to Congress, railroad workers say that when Amtrak's Pioneer, Desert Wind and California Zephyr cross the state, they continue to spray human waste in stations, in populated areas and on workers.
A report released by the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen says that since congressional hearings were held in September, 37 incidents of trains spraying raw sewage have been documented along tracks in the state. At least eight of those incidents were in stations. If the charges are true, Amtrak is breaking promises it has made to members of Congress."It is quite apparent that Amtrak has no intention of addressing this problem on their own. It seems a bit ironic that people from the private sector would be arrested for doing the same thing Amtrak legally does. We must rely on Congress to remove their so-called `exemption,' " George Jones, a Helper resident and general chairman of the brotherhood's Rio Grande Committee, said.
Congress exempted Amtrak in 1976 from a federal law prohibiting buses, planes, trains and recreational vehicles from dumping untreated raw sewage. Amtrak grinds up human excrement and toilet paper and sprays it from Superliner cars used on routes west of Chicago. The waste is not chemically treated.
Amtrak pledged at the congressional hearings that it would lock restrooms on certain cars that dump wastes directly on the tracks and fix spraying equipment so no dumping can occur at speeds under 35 mph, particularly in populated areas and stations. The union report said that during the last two and half months, sewage has been released near or in stations in Salt Lake City, Provo, Helper and Grand Junction, Colo. Workers also witnessed Amtrak spraying sewage near the Price and Spanish Fork rivers and while a train was crossing the 72nd South overpass in Midvale.
Congressman Howard Nielson, R-Utah, who helped organize the hearings, said he plans to introduce legislation to force Amtrak to change its system if the carrier doesn't show progress in living up to its promises.
"We want to work with Amtrak. We want to give them the funds to do what they have to do, but we also think they have some responsibility, if nothing other than aesthetics. We don't want our countryside messed up," Nielson said. "I think they have had a cavalier attitude and I think that needs to change."
Arthur Lloyd, spokesman for Amtrak in San Francisco, said Amtrak is complying with their promises to members of Congress. He said he believed that workers may be mistaking discharged dishwater and melted ice from dining cars for human sewage.
"Our people in the Western region are monitoring and have been having people ride the train," Lloyd said.
He said there are about 100 other places on the train where liquids other than sewage can come out.
Stephen Rowe, a signal maintainer at a switching yard in Salt Lake City, said it's pretty easy to tell the difference between raw sewage and dishwater, and it is sewage that is being dumped.
Lloyd said platforms at the Rio Grande station in Salt Lake are sprayed off with water after the departure of each train. He said the only dumping problem at a station they were aware was one at Helper and that was being looked into.
"I don't know what more we can do," he said.> Dale E. Marx, with the state Health Department's Bureau of Drinking Water and Sanitation, said the state is considering asking other Western states to join in a lawsuit if Congress doesn't take action this year. The Health Department also supports efforts by Jones to get Utah legislators to introduce a bill that prohibits dumping of sewage on railroad rights of way.