Tragedy was averted when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded just outside the town of Casselton sending a huge plume of fire and black smoke into the sky. No one was hurt in the accident, which is under investigations, as the 2,400 residents of the town obeyed evacuation orders.
The accident has once again shifted focus on the safety of carrying crude oil and other hazardous goods by train. The U.S. has been relying on its aging rail freight networks to transport crude oil amid loud calls for changing the way oil is transported across the country.
In fact, there have been reports of numerous derailments in the area around Casselton with the Mayor Ed McConnell stating that the time had come to sit down and have a conversation with the lawmakers about the dangers of transporting oil by rail.
The accident comes a few months after last summer’s catastrophic derailment of unattended train of tank cars in Lac-Megantic town of Quebec that led to the death of 47 people. The train was carrying crude from North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch.
Meanwhile, another train carrying crude oil and propane derailed in New Brunswick province of Canada earlier this month. The fire resulting from the derailment raged on for more than 12 hours and drove 150 people out of their homes. Thankfully, no deaths or injuries were reported from this incident.
The series of accidents involving transport of oil and other dangerous chemicals have intensified calls for tighter controls on shipment of such goods. Among the measures being considered by the United States Transportation Department are:
• Testing the oil being transported to determine its volatility
• Stricter safety requirements for tank cars
• Installation of positive train controls to alert engineers about impending problems
In neighboring Canada, the transport department issued new safety rules drafted by the railway industry even as the federal department re-issued an emergency directive that was first issued last July in the wake of the Quebec tragedy.
The directives issued at the time called for at least two crew members to work the trains transporting hazardous goods and continuous attendance of trains with dangerous cargo.
The U.S. and Canadian governments could take a leaf out of the Dutch rail system, which is far safer than the rail systems in other European countries. The Dutch government has designated rail, road, and water transport routes for the shipment of dangerous cargo and dictates compliance with certain safety requirements in terms of packaging of hazardous goods.
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Article Added on Sunday, May 11, 2014
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