Another crude oil train derailment. More dragging feet from Washington. For all the talk of massive regulations everywhere you turn, it seems exploding trains was left off the list. On Wednesday, a CSX train hauling crude oil derailed in Lynchburg, VA. Six cars went off the track and burst into flames – forcing the evacuation of 300 nearby residents.

In addition to the fire, an unknown amount spilled into the James River. No injuries have occurred with this latest derailment, but witnesses told local news that the explosion was house-shaking and a fireball erupted 200 feet into the air.

This train derailment is the latest in a string of accidents in the U.S. and Canada. The shale oil boom has come with its own set of issues. Companies have turned to rail as the preferred method of transportation, with trains hauling 93,312 car loads of crude oil. That equates to around 66 million barrels of oil. Most of the oil originates out of the Bakken region in North Dakota, which is as rural as you can get.

Before the derailment yesterday, regulators have been struggling to come up with a response to the accidents. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is preparing to send his ‘list of options’ on crude-by-rail safety to the White House. In what will take forever, the industry has a chance to comment on the rules before anything is finally enacted.

The deadline for new safety measures is by the end of the year, but the DOT is hoping to have something in place before then. Raise your hand if you have ever seen the DOT get something done early. President Obama does have the executive power to circumvent the entire process and institute new rules in the interim. So far, he has shown to be unwilling to engage on the issue.

Canada Moves on Rail Safety Measures

Widely seen as unfit for carry crude, the DOT-111 class tank car has been used to haul the majority of crude across the United States and Canada. The car has been at the center of the majority of accidents. Foxx thinks the car will “have to be either retrofitted or replaced.”

Canada is already moving to prevent the class of tanker car from hauling crude. Last week, they passed a plan to phase out the cars over three years. Something the United States needs to follow. The rail industry has been supportive of the change, but the oil industry does not want to absorb the costs of leasing stronger cars. They question whether a stronger car would make any difference in a crash. Well, we know the current cars aren’t up to par in accidents.

Another option is to place the same regulations on oil as we do on hazardous materials. Other hazmat is forced to reroute away from populations centers. Oil can just roll through downtown areas. With the Bakken oil containing higher levels of methane and propane, first responders are often left to wait for it to burn out.

With the derailments, it’s obvious something needs to be done. And more than just a list of options for the White House to go over. Not everything needs a commission to study possible solutions.


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