It was a pleasant evening in July 2013, when the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic suddenly became a war zone. Forty-two people were confirmed dead, with five more missing and presumed dead. More than 30 buildings in the town's center, roughly half of the downtown area, were destroyed.
Investigators have released the Quebec railroad accident safety report. The reports states that a myriad of failures in equipment, training and oversight led to the crude oil train derailment that killed 47 people in a Quebec town last year — and that the disaster could repeat itself unless regulators and industry take action. Even more disturbing is the knowledge that the oil train passed through Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and North Dakota before it derailed. Concerns about future railroad crashes are valid because the number of carloads of crude originating from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and Montana, which now produces 1 million barrels of oil per day, has jumped from 10,800 per day in 2009 to more than 400,000 last year. This has spiked the amount of railroad accidents involving trains carrying crude oil. There were zero in 2010 and 5 accidents in 2013 and 2014. Without new railroad safe guards the DOT predicted railroad derailments would rise to 15 next year.
Here in Virginia (VA) we are at risk for these type of railroad accidents to occur as well. Recently the public got an early look at details regarding trains loaded with crude oil that often travel through the state. CSX operates up to five trains per week with crude oil in Virginia, according to a report that was filed with Virginia’s Department of Emergency Management this month. The oil is highly combustible and recently an oil train derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia (VA). Railroad and oil companies assert that safety has improved and most trains are safe, but as Virginia railroad injury attorneys we know that all it takes is one derailment for life to be lost. A major safety improvement that railroad companies have been slow to make is the replacing of the DOT-111 tank car which can be punctured during a crash. Canada is phasing these cars that were made before 2011, which was when safety improvements were made.
In the US, most of those cars actually are owned by the oil companies and not railroad companies. In fact, many oil companies have petitioned the Department of Transportation to require tougher tank cars. DOT still has not acted on the petition, but the oil refinery industry will invest $4.5 billion in better tank cars by the end of the year.