Bomb Trains

“We Need Not Be Polite” Hears First National Conference On Oil Train Threats

oil train conference

On November 12th, I boarded a train headed to Pittsburgh, PA to attend the first national independent gathering focused on the topic of oil trains. The trip would take me through Philadelphia where an Amtrak train crashed in May resulting in eight fatalities and over 200 injuries. 

There is general consensus that the accident would have been avoided if positive train control technology had been in place. In 2008, Congress mandated that positive train control be installed by the end of 2015. However, the railroads failed to do this and were recently given a three to five year extension by Congress after the rail companies threatened to shut down rail service if the mandate were enforced.

Risky Shale Oil-by-Rail Expands Despite Lack of Spill Response Preparedness

The worst onshore oil spill in United States history was the Kalamazoo River tar sands pipeline spill in 2010 with estimates of one million gallons of oil spilled. In comparison, the oil-by-rail accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec was 50% bigger.

With the oil-by-rail industry proposing large expansions to West Coast destinations, it is understandable that some local communities are worried about the risks of a spill causing major environmental damage and threatening human health.

Watch DeSmog’s Justin Mikulka Interviewed on ‘Ring of Fire’ About Risky Crude Oil Trains

Following up on several recent articles and a video explaining how the risks of Bakken oil “bomb trains” will continue to endanger communities across North America for years to come despite new regulations

Oil-by-Rail Giant BNSF Threatens Shutdown Over Safety

In June of 2014, a representative of oil-by-rail giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) attended a meeting with regulators where the American Association of Railroads (AAR) lobbied against any speed limits for oil trains. One of the slides from that presentation – titled “Far Reaching Economic Impacts” (image below) — predicted dire consequences to the American economy if speed limits were put in place.

There was no mention of the safety benefits of such a speed limit in the presentation. 

And now BNSF is back at it, informing regulators that if a congressionally mandated requirement from 2008 that requires all railroads to implement positive train control (PTC) by the end of 2015 isn’t extended, they may just shut down BNSF.

VIDEO: Government, Industry Ignore Scientific Case For Improving Crude By Rail Safety, Let Bomb Trains Roll On

Oil train in Seattle by Brendan DeMelle

Since the tragic Bakken oil train accident that extinguished 47 lives in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in July 2013, seven more Bakken oil trains have derailed, resulting in accidents involving large fires and explosions. We now know that oil produced in North Dakota's Bakken Shale formation is extremely volatile due to its high natural gas liquid content — resulting in the “bomb train” phenomenon.

DeSmog’s new investigative video, written and produced by Justin Mikulka, details a coordinated effort by the oil industry, members of the U.S. Congress, regulators and the Department of Energy to challenge the known science of crude oil characteristics with the goal of delaying or avoiding any regulatory changes requiring Bakken crude oil stabilization, a safety measure that would protect the millions of people currently living in bomb train blast zones.

Half a Million California Students Attend School In Oil Train Blast Evacuation Zones

A new analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity finds that 500,000 students in California attend schools within a half-mile of rail tracks used by oil trains, and more than another 500,000 are within a mile of the tracks.

Railroad disasters shouldn’t be one of the ‘three Rs’ on the minds of California school kids and their parents,” said Valerie Love with the Center. “Oil trains have jumped the tracks and exploded in communities across the country. These dangerous bomb trains don’t belong anywhere near California’s schools or our children.”

Are US Regulators Trying to Cover Up Influence Of Lobbyists On New Oil-By-Rail Regulations?

It’s no secret that the oil and rail industries lobbied the Obama Administration heavily during the creation of new oil-by-rail regulations released this past May, with lobbyists reportedly not even taking a break the day after a major oil train accident.

But just how much influence did lobbyists actually have in the drafting of the regulations?

Environmentalists who criticize the new rules as far too weak to stop business-as-usual — which has already resulted in five oil train explosions so far this year — are endeavoring to find out by submitting Freedom of Information Act requests for correspondence between lobbyists and five federal agencies within the US Department of Transportation that worked on the oil train safety rules.

So far, they say, they’ve been stonewalled by the Obama Administration.

Most Recent Oil Train Accidents and Spills Involved ‘Safer’ CPC-1232 Tank Cars

oil train credit Justin Mikulka

Roosevelt County chief deputy sheriff Corey Reum was one of the first responders to the recent Bakken oil train derailment in Montana, a few miles from the North Dakota border.

“We're lucky it didn't ignite,” Reum told ABC News.

That is just one of the things first responders have learned since the deadly accident two years ago in Lac-Megantic. As a Globe and Mail article marking that two year anniversary recently noted, when the train was on fire and rail cars were exploding in Lac-Megantic, no one could figure out why.

Senate Working to Strip Braking Safety Requirements From Oil Train Regulations

As documented on DeSmog, the new oil-by-rail regulations contain major concessions to the oil and rail industries as the result of relentless lobbying during the rulemaking process. One logical safety measure that the rail industry failed to block from the new rules was a requirement for modern braking systems know as electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes.

However, the rail industry has a Plan B to avoid modernizing their braking systems and so far it is working quite well.

FBI Advisory: Oil Trains At Risk of "Extremist" Attack, But Lacks "Specific Information" To Verify

A documentmarked “Confidential” and published a year ago today, on July 18, 2014, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) concluded that “environmental extremists” could target oil-by-rail routes, as first reported on by McClatchyBut the Bureau also concedes upfront that it lacks “specific information” verifying this hunch.

Rail industry lobbying groups published the one-page FBI Private Sector Advisory as an exhibit to a jointly-submitted August 2014 comment sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT), which has proposed “bomb trains” regulations currently under review by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)


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