SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – In recent months, train derailments and toxic spills have fueled worries for some towns across the country.

Recent crashes have led to hearings on Capitol Hill, with rail carriers and safety records under the microscope.

In a special FOX49/KOLR10 investigation, we looked at the toxic chemicals rolling through the Ozarks.

For many people in Southwest Missouri, living by the rails is a way of life.  

“The tracks are right there….you can see them going across there,” explained Richard Sherwood, a resident of Elwood. “We love it.  When I am out waving, they will wave at us.”  

And for business owners, being near the tracks is part of a day’s work.

Bryce Gilliland, owner of Countryside BBQ Pro Shop in Springfield said, “It is just loud which is expected.” He explained, “I just figure it is everyday stuff, but nothing bothers me, and I never think of anything.”

The trains are out of sight and out of mind for many people, and the roaring locomotives and clanging railcars have become background noise.  

But, the railroads and highways, and what’s rolling along them, are on the minds of emergency agencies.  

Christopher Roush, a Battalion Chief with Springfield Fire Department, stated, “There has been rail going through here and Springfield for hundreds of years and as long as there has been rail there has been the potential for incidents.”

Sights like February’s fiery Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio are reminders that anything can happen when equipment malfunctions and toxic chemicals leave the rails, spilling onto cities or countrysides.

Roush said, “We try to have a high level of seriousness in our training and not become complacent.” He added, “We do take these events.  We study them and incorporate them into our training drills because we know it is a possibility because it has happened.”

“There are always times you wonder if something is going to happen,” Gilliland said.  “To me, it seems weird you never really hear about it, and then suddenly one after the other.” 

FOX49/KOLR10 Investigates dug into data from BNSF Railway and found railcars roll through southwest Missouri every day carrying potentially hazardous material. Some of those items include sulfuric acid, fertilizer, propane, oil, and other fuel like diesel and gasoline.”

“Honestly the number one commodity going up and down the road these days is fuel, and most people don’t think of that. Most people don’t think of that, but there is a lot of it. 40,000 gallons of fuel or diesel fuel burning or spilling is a hazard and serious risk to the community,” Roush said.   

FOX49/KLR10 discovered that local agencies are informed what type of cargo, in general, comes through on trains and trucks. But there is no system in place to inform jurisdictions each time specific hazardous materials roll through. Emergency agencies rely on the railroad companies to tell them what’s in the cars if a derailment occurs. 

“Well, somebody knows, and we rely heavily on those folks, Roush said.  

The Springfield Fire Department has a hazmat mitigation team that regularly trains for situations involving rail and road hazmat accidents.

Roush explained, “It is more than just a plan.  It is critical that we consider these events well before it happens.” He added,” We would always advise the community to be risk minded but to live your life and go on about your life, business, and commerce. We can’t constantly live in fear.”

Gilliland said, “If they are here to help us out if something like that does happen, then that is good for us. To have them respond in a timely manner and make sure everybody is taken care of. I think that is a good thing.”