Sunday, May 4, 2014

Off topic: Rail car safety

Last week, several cars of a CSX train hauling crude oil from North Dakota to Virginia derailed in Lynchburg, Va., causing a fire and spilling an undetermined amount of oil into the James River. It was one of several such incidents in the past year, and it underscores how things can go wrong all at once.

This article talks in detail about what we know about the derailment and what we don't know. About twenty years ago, I was one of several people on Ashland Oil corporate jet as that company flew Huntington-area reporters to Jeffersonville, Ind., to announce Ashland was buying several double-hull petroleum barges from Jeffboat and phasing out its single-hull barges.

I thought of that as I pondered the content of this story, which mentions how Canada is requiring railroads and their customers to phase out their older tank cars and replace them with newer, safer ones within three years. Because a lot of rail traffic crosses the border, we'll be seeing those new cars here, too, even if the U.S. government does not require them.

Given that a lot of cars used in trains are owned by customers and not by the railroads themselves, I would assume the railroads and insurance companies are pushing for better tank cars, too. Until we improve the nation's pipeline system, this is one of several steps that will be taken to make rail transport of crude, especially crude from North Dakota, safer.

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