Easterners have long considered the West a a vast desert, suitable for dumping whatever waste they want to get rid of. That mentality also seems to hold sway among officials of Amtrak, the federally subsidized railroad line.
Railroad workers and even passengers at train depots have complained about Amtrak dumping human waste from toilets. This practice is done only on routes west of Chicago.The trains are equipped with automatic spray systems that grind up the waste and spray it along the right of way. Amtrak officials pledged earlier this year that they would at least not dump or spray waste at train depots. They said the spray systems would be set so they would not work when a train was traveling less than 35 miles per hour.
Unfortunately, that pledge has not ended the problem. In August, dumping of human waste was reported at the Helper depot in Carbon County. In any case, there are other ways to handle the problem.
At hearings held by Rep. Howard Nielson in Washington this week, Amtrak officials made some unusual arguments, including the statement that dumping human sewage posed no health hazards, and that Amtrak's mandate from Congress was to run the system as cheaply as possible.
Neither of those positions are valid. Raw sewage is by definition a health hazard. Spraying it along railroad tracks, particularly in populated areas and places where railroad employees are working, cannot be considered only an esthetic problem.
As for the cost, fitting the rail cars so they could dump sewage into municipal sewage systems along the route, would run to $34 million. But it is hard to justify using such systems east of Chicago while pleading poverty west of there. The West is not a dumping ground for the rest of the nation.