Dave Simpson: Union Pacific Would Handle This Better, Right?

Columnist Dave Simpson writes: "It's hard to imagine how the Norfolk Southern Railroad could possibly have handled the disastrous derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, worse."

Dave Simpson

February 20, 20235 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

One would hope that the Union Pacific Railroad – my next-door neighbor – is better at avoiding catastrophes like Norfolk Southern’s Feb. 3rd derailment and toxic chemical cloud in East Palestine, Ohio.

God help us if a calamity like that happened on the busy tracks east of Cheyenne. Our house is about 100 yards from the main line of the UP.

We’re so close that at night, lying in bed, you can feel the subtle rumble as multiple 4,500-horsepower locomotives lug impossibly long freight trains up Archer Hill, heading east to Nebraska or west into Cheyenne. (I kind of like it.)

It’s hard to imagine how Norfolk Southern could have handled this worse, not detecting a “hot box” glowing so bright that it showed up in a pre-crash surveillance video. Draining rail cars of hazardous materials then deliberately setting it afire, causing a huge toxic cloud. And not showing up at a public meeting for frightened, ailing residents. The  railroad’s response was as big a disaster as the derailment itself. Union Pacific would do better, right?

There are about 1,000 derailments a year on the nation’s railroads, and last year 337 involved toxic spills.

With only one derailment of a few cars about a quarter mile east of us 10 years ago, it’s not a big worry. But the plan is to go visit the grandkids in Gillette pronto if something like the East Palestine disaster happens in our back yard.

– Also in the news, “non-binary” singer Sam Smith – I couldn’t tell you a thing he’s sung if you held a gun to my head – told an interviewer last week that he/she/they (I’m trying to get it right) likes to go fishing, and would prefer to be known as a “fisherthem.”

I’m glad I got out of the editing biz long ago. Keeping track of how people want to be referred to just makes a tough job tougher.

Who needs the grief?

As for Smith, why not call him an angler? Perfect solution.

– Even an old goat like me gets caught up in the confusion. A discharge form from our local hospital included this line, referring to me: “This patient should be commended for their efforts and has been a pleasure to work with in our exercise program.”

“Their efforts?”

News flash: I’m only one person, but they called me “their.”

The Associated Press style book says “their” is OK to use, but it’s best to rewrite the sentence and avoid the confusion. I say there’s a plural problem with calling me “their.” Readers might ask how many Old Daves we’re dealing with in that sentence.

But then, this is the same Associated Press that said not to refer to “the French,” because it is demeaning, but then quickly rescinded the rule because it was, well, ridiculous. (The ever-clever Elon Musk noted that AP is called “the Associated Press.” There’s that pesky “the.”)

– At a barber shop in Cheyenne last year, I received “the wisdom discount.” When I asked if it was a “senior discount,” the barber told me the word senior was dropped because it might upset some of the pickier oldsters. (Get a life, Gramps!)

– And I note that “the Old Grouch” on the front page of the Casper Star-Tribune became “the Grouch” some years back, when it was decided that “old” is ageist. Apparently “grouch” is still OK.

For now.

Call me old if you want. Just don’t call me late for dinner.

(As a former Star-Tribuner, I could tell you some Old Grouch stories.)

– The blue ribbon for obfuscating the language this week, however, goes to the Air Force officer who said allowing a Chinese balloon to fly over our country, and shooting down $12 toy balloons with $400,000 Sidewinder missiles, is sure indication of “a domain awareness gap.”

I’ll say.

– Meanwhile, as Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri touts legislation to protect kids from the internet, we hear of a murder suspect in Massachusetts who allegedly used the web to research how long it takes a body to decompose, and what common household products might speed the process.


Science is swell and all, but you have to wonder what the people who put that information on the web could possibly have been thinking.

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Dave Simpson

Political, Wyoming Life Columnist

Dave has written a weekly column about a wide variety of topics for 39 years, winning top columnist awards in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois and Nebraska.