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Train accident causes oil explosion


Freight trains that are hauling oil across North America have at least ten times since 2008 have derailed and spilled quantities of oil, causing most of these accidents to catch on fire and cause explosions.

Train derailments can release more than 3 million gallons of oil, almost twice as much as the largest oil pipeline spill in the U.S since 1986. One of the most deadliest derailment wreck killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

To improve the safety of oil shipments, experts say that increasing volumes of crude oil now moving by rail are increasing lives and property at risk. U.S and Canadian accident records underscore U.S lesser dangers of America's oil boom, which now raises many urgent safety questions in regards to oil rail accidents.

Adding to the danger are crude oil from the Bakken oil patches in North Dakota and Montana, where many trains originate from. Of the six oil trains that derail and caught fire in 2008, four came from the Bakken patches, including the accident in Lac-Megantic, which was estimated to have spilled 1.6 million gallons of oil in the large section of town.

After the oil explosions caused during derailments in North Dakota, Alabama, Quebec and New Brunswick, companies and regulators are pursuing changes to insure safety from train derailment or oil fire. Potential changes they suggest includes slowing or rerouting trains, upgrading rupture-prone tank cars and bolstering fire departments. Company executives are expected to offer safety measures by the request of U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

“I’m absolutely positive the railway industry will come up with techniques to define how to minimize risk,” said Allan Zarembski, a lead to the rail-safety program at the University of Delaware. “The key word is ‘minimize.’ You can’t eliminate risk.”

Number of tanker cars hauling oil has increased by 40-fold since 2008, showing federal records a dramatic spikes in accidental crude oil releases from tank cars. It is expected that over the next decade, the U.S and Canada may see increase from 1 million barrels a day to 4.5 million, according to official transportation transcripts.

Roughly 2,000 miles from the heart of the oil bool in the Northern Plains of America to some of the East Coast refineries, rails stretch out, pulling trains of several million gallons that passes through multiple cities, such as Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland and Buffalo. Some cities, like Chicago have railroads that divert trains from city cores, but elsewhere, the best maintained and safest train tracks runs directly through communities built around railroads. At times, trains may also rout to even more populated cities, such as New Orleans, Albany, N.Y or Philadelphia.

The explosion caused in the Bakken oil derailments caught many people off guard, from regulators to the railroads themselves.

“I don’t think people understood the potential for a problem if there were a derailment,” said a industry consulting firm vice-president for Oliver Wyman, Jason Kuehn.

A major accident was avoided in Philadelphia, where six oil tankes derailed close to the center of the city over the Schuylkill River. The oil came from North Dakota, where it was picked up in Chicago, heading towards a refinery in south of Philadelphia. No oil was reported to have spilled, but the derailment still caused a stir.

“During rush hour, I imagine there are a couple hundred people on each train,” said Sandy Folzer, retired professor in Philadelphia. “That scares me, that there’s explosive material so close to where commuters are.” She worries about oil cars travelling alongside commuter rails.

Proposals are ruled to route trains away from populated city areas after the 2001 terrorist attack. The ruling proposed to restrict cargoes that would include oil, explosives, radioactive materials and poisonous gases.

However, when the rules were being written out, regulators in California pushed the federal descision to include oil.

Now federal safety officials agreed to include oil, given the amount of tank growths that carries ethanol, crude, and other flammable liquids that were involved in train derailments and explosions. The rulings would rule that railroads would be given broader routing to other sections to avoid areas that deemed risky to the common population. However, the ruling never took place, said the FRA Associate Administrator Kevin Thompson.

Even if trains had the option to re-rout themselves to less-populated areas, many critics argue that it shifts risk to small communities who are even more threatened due to their few resources for safe measures in case of a fiery accident. Rural and suburban municipalities in Maine, Illinois and Vermont has pushed against the proposal.

Source: Dallas News "Train accidents, explosions stir worries about oil transports through major cities". Matthew Brown, February 17, 2014