Just six weeks after Amtrak vowed to stop dumping waste from trains going slower than 35 mph, some Utah residents say Amtrak isn't living up to its agreement.
Malinda Hunt of Price said she was standing with about 20 other people on the Helper station platform Wednesday morning when they saw macerated human waste sprayed from the eastbound California Zephyr."We were just waiting to put my sister on the train and it dumped it at our feet," Hunt said. "I think they should dump it into the sewer systems at their stops. If a trailer went out into the desert and dumped this stuff they would get a fine. It should not be any different for them."
The dumping occurred while paramedics were trying to help a girl on the train with a medical problem. Several of the train's passengers, who had gotten off the delayed train, also witnessed the dumping, Hunt said.
A paramedic said he had to walk through the waste to get to the train.
The incident, along with claims by unions of dumping in other stations, came after Amtrak pledged to adjust an automatic waste spraying system to allow dumping to occur only at speeds over 35 mph.
The system, used on Superliner cars, grinds human waste and sprays it along rights of way. The dumping occurs on routes west of Chicago.
Hunt said the Superliner cars Wednesday were "dead still in the station," and apparently the automatic system wasn't working or was overridden.
In another part of the recent pledge, Amtrak said it would establish a policy prohibiting employees from manually dumping Superliner waste retention tanks in stations, urban or watershed areas. The carrier said it would lock toilets on older cars that allow waste to be dumped when the cars are parked in 14 urban stations.
George E. Jones, with the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, said he has documented 18 incidents of dumping - at least six at stations - since June 15. The union wants even tougher controls than Amtrak has said it would implement because track workers have been sprayed with the waste and exposed to the residue left along tracks.
"It really has been business as usual. Since our meetings with Amtrak we have been getting information about dumping almost daily," Jones said.
Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, has been trying to force Amtrak to change its system. Both he and track workers' unions have demanded Amtrak dump its waste in sewage systems along its Western routes.
A hearing will be held Sept. 20 in Washington, D.C., to address the issue. The congressman wants Amtrak to stop hiding behind an exemption granted in 1972 that requires other carriers, like airplanes and buses, to treat sewage before it is dumped.
The hearing could address the health effects of the dumping, but Amtrak has maintained that a 1978 report from the old Health, Education and Welfare Department says that no evidence had ever been found that dumping along tracks had resulted in disease.