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OPINION: Time of action is here on rail tank car safety

By The West Central Tribune

Willmar, Minn.

We wrote an editorial in December commenting on the increasing number of railroad tank cars carrying crude oil across the nation’s rail lines and the growing safety concerns of the communities along those lines.

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In the later half of 2013, several railroad accidents involving oil tank cars explosions, including one killing 47 people in Quebec that involved Bakken crude oil from North Dakota.

Since our editorial, two more accidents have occurred:

Two BNSF Railway trains derailed, crashed and burned near Casselton on Dec. 30, spilling 400,000 gallons of crude oil.

A Canadian National Railway train carrying propane and crude oil derailed and caught fire on Jan. 7 just outside the village of Castle Rock in northwest New Brunswick, Canada.

Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in either of the two latest derailments.

In the Casselton derailment, both trains were operating well below the permitted speeds on parallel tracks when the derailment of one train occurred and crashed into the second train, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report.

The resulting damage and cost of the Casselton derailment was more than $6.1 million.

The fact remains that much of the rail industry’s tank cars inventory needs improvement. Nearly 80,000 tank cars on railroads do not meet current industry safety standards and need to be replaced or retrofitted, according to the CEO of a major railcar maker.

In 2009, following a deadly ethanol train crash and fire in Illinois, the NTSB has recommended an upgrade program for rail tank cars to improve their safety features and puncture resistance.

Now, five years later, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration still has not proposed any new regulations on rail tank cars.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Monday said, “It’s very clear that we need tank cars with improved safety features for the transportation of Bakken crude oil.” North Dakota is now the No. 2 oil-producing state behind Texas, and much of its Bakken crude oil is shipped through Minnesota.

The time for Congress and the railroad industry to step up and implement a proactive program improving safety features for rail tank cars is here before another derailment explosion occurs.

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