Monday, October 12, 2015

Heavy weight of trains carrying crude oil could be taxing tracks, increasing derailments

The heavy weight and long cars of trains carrying crude oil could be to blame for an increase in oil train derailments, Ralph Vartabedian reports for the Los Angeles Times. More oil was spilled on U.S. railways in 2013 than in the previous 37 years combined, and that doesn't count the spillage and 47 deaths from a derailment in Quebec of a train running from North Dakota to Maine. A Times review of 31 crashes from 2013 found that 59 percent were the result of track problems, more than double the overall rate for freight-train accidents. Many crude oil trains carry more than 100 cars and weigh 19,000 tons or more.

"Not since the early days of John D. Rockefeller's oil trust have railroads played such a central role in moving oil from wells to refineries," Vartabedian writes. "Oil shipments by rail have soared—an eighteenfold increase between 2010 and 2014—as domestic oil production has escalated faster than the construction of new pipelines to carry it to market."

"The Federal Railroad Administration is preparing to issue in coming weeks a new set of initiatives to address the track problems, after previously clamping tighter restrictions on tank-car designs and railroad operations," Vartabedian writes. "Weight, oil sloshing and cold temperatures are among the issues that might be exacerbating the problem, according to rail-safety experts. Investigators at Safety Transportation Board Canada, which is examining the eight accidents that have occurred in that country, are beginning to suspect that the oil trains are causing unusual track damage." (Read more)

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