A boom in North American oil production over the last decade has improved the energy situation of the United States but at some cost to transportation safety. Several deadly train accidents in Quebec, Oklahoma, Alabama, New Brunswick and North Dakota, among other places, led to a recent safety agreement between railroads and the U.S. Department of Transportation. In most of the train accidents, rail cars were carrying crude oil shipments that had catastrophic and explosive results from derailments and ruptured tanks.
The recent deal requires oil trains to travel no more than 40 miles per hour when going through major cities; the previous limit was 50 mph. Emergency response preparations and regular track inspections are also set to improve along rail lines that handle trains hauling some 3 million gallons of crude oil each year. The new safety measures will begin in late March and take full effect July 1.
The new regulations do not address concerns about ethanol, another dangerous fuel hauled by rail. Ethanol trains have also been involved in accidents.
The DOT has said it will address concerns separately for some 78,000 cars that haul ethanol and crude and are known to be defective and to present dangers during derailments.
A former director of the National Transportation Safety Board's rail accident investigation called the recent move a "positive step." Meanwhile, the president of the Association of American Railroads expects all North American railways to sign the safety agreement; the association includes major railways in Mexico and Canada.
Besides extensive damage to the environment, train accidents can cause catastrophic injuries to workers, passengers and bystanders. A train's massive size, speed and cargo can also add to the likelihood of fatalities. A train accident victim in Oklahoma will need sufficient compensation to get their life back.
Source: Newser, "After explosive accidents, railroads agree to voluntary measures to make crude shipments safer," Matthew Brown & Joan Lowy, Feb. 21, 2014