Shipping Crude Oil Poses a Danger to Railroad Workers
When one pictures the movement of crude oil across the United States one pictures massive pipelines crisscrossing the United States, pumping thousands of gallons of oil to its destination. However, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out yesterday, in the past 5 years or so there has been a remarkable change in the way oil is transported. Today nearly 20 percent of crude oil is transported by rail. Most of the oil is loaded on cars in North Dakota and Western Canada and is shipped to railheads in the midwest or along the Gulf Coast for processing. However, a large quantity is also shipped east to New York, Philadelphia, and of course to Tidewater Virginia.
To many commentators, shipping oil on the railroads has clear advantages. It has lower initial capital costs than pipelines, it allows distributors to ship oil to wherever they want to receive the highest price. However, there is one major downside, namely safety. In 2013 an oil train in Lac-Mégantic, in Quebec, derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. In the same year, two BNSF trains were involved in a derailment that released over 400,000 gallons of crude and led to an explosion several stories tall and leads to an evacuation of 1,400 people. There have been numerous instances of train derailments in leaks that not only result in toxic crude oil being released but also results in it exploding, often resulting in the loss of life.
I shudder to think what would happen if a similar accident took place in densely populated Hampton Roads. It may not take a great leap of imagination as a similar oil accident happened in Lynchburg, Virginia earlier this year when a CSX train exploded after derailing. It was an accident that highlighted just how unprepared most first responders are to an accident of this magnitude. Railroad workers are especially at risk due to their proximity to any explosion that would happen. It’s just one more hazard of working on the railroad.
Luckily in the Lynchburg accident there was no loss of life, but the Canadian incident illustrated the potential risks. I hope the newly proposed US Department of Transportation rules and recently enacted Association of American Railroads regulations help diminish the likelihood of an accident before it’s too late.
The specifications of the DOT-111 tank car are inherent to the problem. The workhorse for transporting flammable materials and hazardous substances, has a truly appalling safety record. I’ve been warning about the problems associated with these tank cars for years to no avail. Unfortunately so far little to no progress has taken place by the railroads and decision makers on this issue. Only in recent years have regulators started to talk about the DOT-111 tanker cars. How many more accidents have to occur, endangering the lives of railroad workers and local residents, before truly comprehensive action takes place to remove these hazardous cars from America’s tracks? The fact that the problems associated with this car have been known since 1983 had little to no action has taken place is simply appalling. Hopefully action will be taken to rectify the problem before these tankers enter the headlines again. If you have been hurt in a railroad accident call our Virginia railroad accident attorneys.