Trains (see below)

Environment Matters




Trains

The transport of oil by trains is another big hazard. Oil is being transported by train all over the country and globally. These trains are at risk of exploding and killing people in the towns that they pass through. The town of Lac Megantic in Canada was one of these towns where 47 people were killed and the whole town was decimated by a single oil train. The industry reports that they expect 10-15 oil spills from trains a year.

Many solutions have been proposed. The most obvious one is to slow the oil trains down. However, the regulations are not slowing down the trains enough, where the average accident was at 34 MPH and regulations are limiting speeds at higher speeds than this.

Also, the transport of all this oil is allowing the fossil fuel industry to continue when in reality we need to quickly phase out of the fossil fuel era.

One great solution is to requiring the people who are loading the train cars to degasify the crude oil before it is transported. In Texas, many oil producers are already degasifying their rail cars before transport, resulting in vapor pressures of 3-7 PSI, which makes the crude oil being transported considerably safer and less likely to explode and spill during transport.

Keeping the size of the crew on railcars to an acceptible number is also important: at least 2 in the crew. Crews used to have 5 workers on the trains with workers on cabooses where they can monitor the train and make sure there aren't any developing problems. They could tell when there were sparks or smoke developing along the wheels which would be an indication of problems. Recent industry cuts have reduced the crews to 2 man teams, and they have even talked about reducing it to 1 man teams, which would be irresponsible. The accident in Lac Megantic in Canada that killed 47 people and decimated a whole village was operated by a 1 man crew.

The solution that the most recent Federal Regulations adopted was safer tank cars. They require that oil trains will move to DOT-117 cars in the next 5-10 years. DOT-117 cars have thicker hulls. However, the train industry has been trying to improve their train cars for a while now. The original tank cars were the DOT-111's. They added shields to these cars with a retrofit procedure but this did not stop accidents. They also went to a CPC-1232 design but again this did not stop oil spills. The new DOT-117 cars seem safer from a limited field study but there is great skepticism that they will be effective in stopping oil spills if widely deployed.

The new Federal Regulations also impose a new electronic braking system but do nothing satisfactory regarding speed or length of trains, and do nothing about degasification (they are soliciting public comments regarding the degasification and the regulations in general on the government web site).

Even if the new Federal Regulations are somewhat effective in preventing oil spills, they won't take effect for 5-10 years, which means that we can expect at least 50 more spills before these regulations take effect.

A map of crude oil carrying trains through the U.S. along with neighborhoods that are in the Blast Zones (areas at risk from crude oil explosions) can be found at explosive-crude-by-rail.org.

A train carrying crude oil will contain a red DOT placard with the number 1267, such as in the picture below:

Watch for trains in your area that have the 1267 placard on them. If you spot one in the Illinois area, please post your sighting at this environmental observatory web site.

If you are in the Chicagoland area, please also consider joining ChiOilByRail on Facebook or the Chi Oil by Rail list serve.

One good bill that would help with this is Senator Cantwell's "Crude by Rail Safety Act" (S 859, HR 1804). You could call your US Representatives to support this bill. If you do this, you can post their response on the Facebook page above.

You can also send a note to President Obama to stop these dangerous trains from coming through your town.

Video of 1267 train running through Galewood, IL on 5/27/15. Video of 1267 train running through Hanson Park, IL on 5/27/15. Video of 1267 train running through Pilsen, Chicago, IL in 5/12/15. Video of 1267 train running through Downers Grove, IL in 7/11/15.

This page last updated on 7/5/17