The Department of Transportation has reviewed the risks of moving crude oil and ethanol via railway across the US and through major cities. The study, completed last July, estimates that trains carrying these fuels will derail approximately 10 times per year over the next decade. These derailments could cause billions in damages and possibly kill hundreds of people.
The railroad study came to light after an accident in West Virginia on February 16 in which a train loaded with crude oil derailed and caused a large fire which forced many families out of their homes. Flammable liquids are being transported by rail in higher volumes than in the past, largely due to the oil shale in North Dakota and Montana. In 2015, 27 billion gallons of oil and ethanol are anticipated to be transported over the railway system.
Senior federal officials indicate the need for stronger tank cars, more effective braking and other safety improvements. According to the reports, 16 million Americans live within a half-kilometer of the railroad tracks. Trains travel through major metropolitan areas like Chicago, Seattle and Philadelphia to get to destination refineries.
Federal railroad accident records reveal over 50 accidents of trains carrying oil and ethanol since 2006 in Canada and the United States. The accidents have involved fire, derailment and significant spillage. Federal officials anticipate that it would take 3 years to modify the existing 50,000 tanker cars. Industry representatives question this timeline, cautioning that it could take 10 years. These modifications are to prevent spills or ruptures during a train derailment. Better brakes and lower speeds also could help to lower damage.