October 6, 2014

Train tracks in trouble?

A recent article in the Daily Press, with a "Dangerous Defects?" headline, should have gotten all readers' attention. But most have already forgotten the fire resulting from the CSX train derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia just a few months ago in late April. The 15 train cars that ended in the James River? The cars full of crude oil on their way to the Yorktown refinery?

That accident is still under investigation. Just a few days after the April 30 accident, inspectors found quite a few troublesome spots where support ties or bolts were missing, rails were cracked or two inches out of line and support soil or gravel was compromised. But now we know that inspectors found significant faults on that specific line six weeks before that derailment. 55 faults have been noted on the line through James City County and Newport News!

Just what constitutes urgency here? CSX is indeed spending about $1 billion this year maintaining existing tracks, signals and bridges. CSX, along with Norfolk Southern, operate about 2000 miles of train tracks in Virginia. Federal regulations call for tracks as heavily used as the CSX mainline through our area to be inspected at least twice a week and immediate repairs made. So someone is not doing their job.

CSX maintains that the derailed train was traveling at an order of slower speed through Lynchburg last April. But 10 mph on tracks with missing bolts and rails two inches out of alignment is not the answer. Watch these crude oil train cars traveling through our area and ask yourself if you are sleeping soundly. Another derailment WILL occur. It is just a question of WHEN.

Chikungunya is not a joke

The World Health Organization, CDC, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and other disease-monitoring agencies have had their hands full recently. Ebola has been their priority. But a mosquito-borne viral disease, chikungunya, deserves more name recognition and media coverage, especially if you plan to travel to any Caribbean island soon.

The disease causes severe and debilitating joint pain and fever and is especially dangerous to those over 65. The actual name of the disease means "bended and twisted over." PAHO's most recent count reported 113 deaths attributed to chikungunya in St. Martin since it first appeared there in December 2013.

I first posted about this disease with the funny name in May, months after hearing about it when we were in St. Lucia and it had affected some folks nearby in St. Martin. But by now it has been reported in more than 738,000 individuals in almost all of the Caribbean islands. 19,000 new cases in the Dominican Republic alone, according to the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research. 

Fellow sailing enthusiasts now in Grenada posted that it is very prevalent now in their community. One said "I am nearly bathing in DEET in the past few weeks." She also repeated the oft quoted phrase that "chikungunya may not kill you but you'll wish you were dead when it doubles you over in pain."

And locally acquired cases in Florida too. Broward County, home to Fort Lauderdale, just reported its first locally acquired chikungunya case on September 19. The case apparently marks the 10th indigenous case in the continental United States, all of them in Florida.

Not to be an alarmist, but that fits my definition of "epidemic." The symptoms usually appear three to seven days after being bitten. So use more DEET products if you travel to the areas below, especially during daytime hours when this particular mosquito bites.