MuckReads: Investigative reporting on the South Korean ferry disasters, automotive recalls, and FAA safety improvement.

#MuckReads Travel Edition: Investigations of the South Korean Ferry Disaster, Automotive Recalls, and FAA Safety Improvement

#MuckReads Travel Edition: Investigations of the South Korean Ferry Disaster, Automotive Recalls, and FAA Safety Improvement

Journalism in the public interest.
Nov. 28 2014 2:00 PM

Planes, Trains, Automobiles. And Ships.

A special collection of travel-related investigative reporting.

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The Republic of Korea Coast Guard works at the site of Sewol ferry sinking accident in April.

Photo by Park Young-Chul-Donga Daily via Getty Images

Here is this week’s special “travel” edition of #MuckReads, ProPublica's ongoing collection of the best watchdog journalism. Anyone can contribute by tweeting a link to a story and with the hashtag #MuckReads or by sending an email to MuckReads@ProPublica.org. Sign up here to get this digest delivered to your inbox weekly. 

This week’s MuckReads takes a different approach. Instead of the best investigative reporting from the last week, we decided to pull together reporting from the last year that focuses on modes of travel—planes, trains, automobiles and boats.

"We've got a little old railroad here, but if they transport crude, I don't know." In a ProPublica analysis, federal data reveals new details about the routes taken by trains carrying crude oil. Oftentimes, local governments are unaware that such trains are passing through and also the dangers they pose. The trains carry up to 30,000 gallons of oil, often in outdated cars that are vulnerable to punctures and leaks. "[Most] fire departments don't have the capacity to deal with more than a standard gasoline tank [fire], which is about 9,000 or 10,000 gallons of fuel," said the vice chairman of the International Association of Fire Chief's hazardous materials committee.—ProPublica, November 2014

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Two dollars spent on safety training. South Korean ferry Sewol sunk in April, killing 304 passengers. The company that ran the ferry was one of 70 owned by tycoon Yoo Byung-eun. And despite the millions and millions of dollars that pass through his companies, he spent just $2 last year on crew safety training. Even that money only went to buy a paper copy of a certificate, the New York Times reports. —New York Times, July 2014

The FAA backed off of safety improvements for small planes. In 1990, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed updated regulations on equipment and designs that could prevent airplane fires that have since claimed at least 600 lives. "But facing opposition from airplane manufacturers, the FAA withdrew its proposal, saying it wasn't worth the extra expense," reports USA Today. Placing the value of a human life at $1 million helped to undermine these proposals. As noted by the FAA, "If the value of life were $2 million rather than $1 million, the benefit-to-cost ratio would be twice as great." — USA Today, October 2014

A season for recalls: It has not been a good year for the auto industry. So far, in 2014, 56 million automobiles have been affected by recalls—or 1 in 5 on American roads. Here’s some of the best reporting on these issues:  

“What Would Court Do?” A decade before GM’s ignition debacle, which has been linked to 30 deaths, a safety inspector named Courtland Kelley brought up safety issue after safety issue. His outspokenness didn’t end in recall, though. It ended with him getting pushed from position to position. As a result, his successor was too afraid to speak up.—BusinessWeek, June 2014

This airbag recall solved a murder. Police first thought Hien Tran was stabbed in the neck. Then a recall letter from Honda came in the mail about the exploding airbag in her car. Police determined her “stab” wound was a result of the faulty airbag. In all, 14 million automobiles carrying these airbags have been recalled.— New York Times, October 2014

A recall cleared her name. Ten years ago, Candice Andersen pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in the death of her boyfriend. On Monday, she was cleared of those charges. Her boyfriend’s death was linked to GM’s faulty ignition switch. “I’m elated. Things are upside down. Or, really, right-side up,” Andersen said.—New York Times, November 2014

Terry Parris Jr. is ProPublica's community editor.