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NTSB Recommends Tough Safety Rules For Oil Trains
BNSF supports recommendations after one of its trains carrying crude derailed and exploded
A BNSF Railway oil train heads west near Browning in August 2013. - Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon
Less than a month after an explosive train derailment in North Dakota, federal investigators are calling for tougher safety standards on trains carrying crude oil, some of which travel through the Flathead Valley every day. On Jan. 23, the National Transportation Safety Board, in coordination with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, issued a series of recommendations, including having oil trains routed around populated areas.

“The large-scale shipment of crude oil-by-rail simply didn’t exist 10 years ago,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “While this energy boom is good for business, the people and the environment along rail corridors must be protected from harm.”

Since July 2013, there have been five major derailments involving crude oil in North America. On July 6, 47 people were killed and 30 buildings leveled in Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, after an unmanned train derailed and exploded near the downtown area. The railroad involved later went bankrupt and on Jan. 21 was sold at auction. On Dec. 30, a BNSF Railway oil train ran into a derailed grain train and exploded in Casselton, N.D. No one was injured in the blast, but the town was evacuated because of toxic fumes.

The movement of crude oil by rail has grown dramatically in recent years, especially out of the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. In 2008, Class 1 railroads, which include the largest railroad companies in America, moved just 9,500 carloads of crude oil. Five years later, in 2013, they were projected to move 400,000 carloads. Late last year, BNSF executive chairman Matthew Rose told the Dallas Business Journal that his railroad would move 1 million barrels of crude oil every day by the end of this year. According to a BNSF spokesperson, the railroad operates one crude oil train every day through the Flathead Valley to refineries in Washington and Oregon.

The NTSB issued three recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, including a requirement for railroads to route trains around populated or sensitive areas; to develop a program to ensure that railroad companies moving crude oil have adequate response plans for accidents; and have tank cars built to tougher standards so they do not puncture during a derailment. According to the Association of American Railroads, there are roughly 92,000 tank cars moving flammable materials, but only 14,000 cars are built to current standards.

In a statement to the Beacon, BNSF spokesperson Matt Jones said the railroad industry has already started to take actions to make sure that crude oil can be moved safely.

“Our safety vision has long been that every accident is preventable,” Jones said. “We look forward to working with our customers, the regulatory agencies and the communities we serve, to make sure that rail continues to be the safest mode of surface transportation, particularly for hazardous materials.”

According to various reports, railroads spilled more crude oil in 2013 than the previous 37 years combined. However, 99 percent of all hazardous materials shipped by rail still arrived at their destination without incident; a figure that shows just how much more crude oil is traveling by rail now than in the past.

Whitefish Fire Department Chief Tom Kennelly said the recent oil train accidents have brought the issue of rail safety to the forefront. However, Kennelly said his department, and others in the Flathead Valley, have completed extensive training with BNSF on how to respond to a chemical spill or accident. He said the recommendations from the NTSB are a reassurance that federal regulators are taking the issue seriously.

“I know that this is a concern for the community, but they should be reassured that the fire department is well trained and we are ready to deal with incidents with hazardous materials,” Kennelly said.
On 01-25-14, fcb commented....
Pipelines are safer and cheaper. Win for the environment and people who want affordable energy. Large campaign cash donor Warren Buffett makes huge money with his railroad hauling oil. Hence, the dear leaders prefer the campaign cash over the environment
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