9 Investigates: Unattended trains on our rails



None - Millions of people live along the nearly 3,000 miles of train track in Florida. In fact, there are almost 200 miles in Orange County alone.

Investigative reporter George Spencer found out just how close people can get to fully loaded trains and even hazardous cargo without anyone noticing.

Steps from the Beachline in Taft, WFTV found fuel tank train cars sitting unfenced, and apparently unsecured.

Two days earlier, WFTV walked right up with a small video camera to see the flammability warning and chemical spill emergency number on unattended liquid petroleum gas tankers about a mile away.

Orange County resident Johnny Walker has lived near the tracks for 40 years.

He said he sees trains with hazardous material sit "for hours. Sometimes for a whole day -- a 24-hour period," he said.

In spot after spot, track-side fencing is trampled down.

Rail workers tipped WFTV off, worried that unattended trains and cargo are a target for criminals or potentially terrorists.

Last summer, evidence found in Osama bin Laden's compound indicated the possibility of terror attacks on American railroads.

On a weekday afternoon, WFTV was in the area of the tracks for at least half an hour. No one spoke to WFTV or apparently even knew the crew was present. Getting on board the cars would have been no trouble at all.

"It's a very dangerous situation that can get ugly quickly," Walker said.

Nationwide regulations require anyone transporting hazardous materials to "comply with a security plan addressing ... unauthorized access." But responsibility is spread out among federal agencies, the rail industry, track owners and train operators.

Investigations usually happen only after a formal complaint. It leaves some questioning who takes the lead.

"Who is there from the local standpoint in the Orlando area that's actually out there looking at these side rails to see if they are hazardous material?" personal injury attorney Eric Hewko said.

Federal data indicate that Florida already has more trespassers on its train tracks than other states in the Southeast, even though operators are always supposed to prevent unauthorized access.

Several train operators use the tracks where WFTV found unattended cars. The cars' owner, CSX, admits it's an imperfect situation but said it uses surveillance technology and even its own police force to keep an eye on the tracks.

Train operators aren't necessarily breaking the rules by leaving the cars unattended for short periods. Federal regulations require that hazardous materials not be held in rail yards or on tracks for more than 48 hours.

The rail companies said it's in their financial interest to move the product as quickly as possible.