It took a series of four devastating train derailments in just the past few months, but the National Transportation Safety Board has finally taken action and issued recommendations designed to improve the safety of oil transport by rail. The move came after yet another massive crash and oil spill, this time in North Dakota, which left dozens of tanker cars derailed and thousands of gallons of crude oil spread across the accident site.
The NTSB said that action is needed to ensure the safety of railroad employees as well as members of the public. Given the boom in American oil production, there’s been a corresponding increase in the transportation of the oil from the fields to the refineries. Bureaucratic delays have held up the creation of pipelines to move the oil, which means that the railroad industry has been forced to handle the vast majority of the transportation. The rise in oil transport by rail is astounding. The railroad industry said that back in 2008, 9,500 tanker cars of oil were being moved by rail. In 2013, the number had mushroomed to more than 400,000. Experts interviewed by the New York Times say that the volume of oil spilled by trains in the United States last year was greater than all the oil spilled by trains from 1975 to 2012 combined.
Because of the recent boom in oil transport, safety experts say a similarly rapid change in safety regulations needs to take place. Rules need to be issued that will minimize the risk of future derailments and oil spills. If action isn't taken, further spills could continue to have a devastating environmental impact as well as pose potentially serious harm to those working on or living near the trains.
The NTSB has specifically recommended that railroads come up with plans to either slow down oil-carrying trains or reroute them away from major population centers. The NTSB also says that time and attention needs to be paid to evaluating the safety of the tanker cars that routinely haul the oil. This is especially true with regard to widely-known defects in the design that can lead to ruptures, which can take an already-bad derailment and make it exponentially worse.
The hope is that these new tactics will reduce the chance that a derailment will cause the kind of harm seen last summer in Quebec when a crude oil train derailed and then exploded, resulting in a grisly incident that left 47 people dead. If changes aren't made quickly, experts agree that it’s only a matter of time until another derailment turns deadly.