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Safety Changes Are Not Enough When Oil Trains Pass: Sierra Club

A nasty oil train derailment in Canada killed more than 45 people in 2013, which spurred regulators in the US and Canada to make changes to train safety regulations. But many say the changes are not enough.

The Delaware chapter of the Sierra Club has noted in recent weeks that while the railroad and oil companies say that safety has improved and most trains are safe, all it takes is one derailment for life to be lost.

Attention has refocused on oil train derailments this year after a train derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia, which sent several tankers into the James River. No lives were lost but some oil did spill into the river.

Railroad companies say that much has been done in recent years to increase safety. The number of incidents are relatively small they say, while the number of oil tank cars moving across the US has increased 14 times since 2010. This is because there is an oil drilling boom in shale deposits in places such as North Dakota, and rail is really the only way to transport the crude to refineries on the East Coast.

The Association of American Railroads said this week that industry has made changes that are designed to reduce accidents. Trains are going slower, there are more track inspections, routes are more selective and not going through areas that are as populated. Also, more local fire departments and first responders are being trained to know what to do when a derailment occurs.

One item that still needs to be decided, according to the association, is how to improve tank car standards. The DOT-111 tank car 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.

The Sierra Club applauds the efforts of the oil refineries, but remains critical of the slow actions of the DOT.

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