Attacks against IRR trains

A letter by Mark W Hemphill, former US advisor to Iraqi Republic Railways, was published by the Pitsburgh Tribune Review on 17 January 2007 in response to some scaremongering about chemical trains. It gives some background to how things went wrong for IRR after the invasion.

‘Terror’ off the tracks IV

As the U.S. government’s senior railway adviser to the Iraqi Republic Railways (IRR) from February 2005 to August 2006, I am qualified to point out a major error of fact and a greater error of logic Carl Prine made in his “Terror on the Tracks” series.

The factual error is this: After Mr. Prine observed the Iraqi Republic Railway at a standstill in Anbar Province, he concluded terrorists brought it to a standstill. In fact, the IRR was at a standstill in Anbar because the U.S. military decided the railway didn’t need to operate!

It decided the railway was of such secondary importance to Iraq’s economy and the U.S. mission in Iraq that it could seize railway marshalling yards, stations and maintenance shops to convert them to U.S. military bases and tear gaps through the track to make roads for its vehicles. As a result, the economy in Anbar Province, consisting of heavy industry dependent upon railway transportation, had to also shut down — and there went the jobs and family incomes.

How does Mr. Prine know that militants have learned how to slice open tank cars in Iraq? In fact, they haven’t bothered to try.

From late 2003 to the present there have been several hundred attacks on IRR track, trains and employees by bandits. These attacks are variously designed to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the central government, to encourage the railway to pay “protection” to local criminal gangs and to gin up work for local labor contractors.

As far as an attack on IRR tank cars carrying hazardous commodities designed to cause mass casualties of Iraqi civilians, not one has been attempted. This even though the IRR moves entire trainloads of highly explosive commodities — from predictable origins to predictable destinations on predictable schedules — in tank cars labeled clearly as to their contents.

Meanwhile, Iraqi civilians are being slaughtered by the hundreds with simple homemade bombs delivered in taxis and trucks to markets, bus stations and mosques.

If our experience with terrorists in Iraq predicts our vulnerability in the U.S., it is that the terrorists have decided that railway tank cars carrying hazardous materials are an unattractive target.

Mark W. Hemphill
Washougal, Wash.