THE BLOG

Governments Should Stop Playing Railway Russian Roulette

10/09/2014 08:16 EDT | Updated 12/09/2014 05:59 EST

Another major disaster happened Oct. 7 involving oil by rail transportation and there was a major derailment of oil train in Saskatchewan. Evacuation of nearby residents but no deaths reported.

That mishap occurred two days after I outlined the dangers inherent as a result of government inaction and massive deployment of trains to transport oil across the U.S. and Canada in the New York Post. Here's that piece:

On July 5, 2013, just before midnight, the sole engineer of a US train carrying 73 carloads of North Dakota crude oil parked miles outside a small town in Quebec on a gentle slope. Less than an hour later the unattended train began to roll downhill and eventually reached a speed of 60 miles per hour before derailing, exploding and destroying the town of Lac-Megantic and killing 47 people.

The fire burned for 36 hours and the heat was so intense that the leaves in trees half a mile away turned autumn orange and red.

This month, a Quebec judge finally charged the engineer and two other railway employees with 47 criminal charges each, carrying potential life sentences.

The railway's executives were not charged despite public demands, nor are they suffering financially. The owner of the runaway train was Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway of Hermon, Maine, a shoestring operation with a checkered safety record that had operated for years on both sides of the border. The accident caused hundreds of millions in damages, but the company had a mere $25 million in liability insurance. Naturally, it declared bankruptcy immediately, leaving Canadian taxpayers with the tab.

Meanwhile, 14 months later, it's still business as usual for the rail industry. Gigantic trains, six blocks long, continue to crisscross the continent every day delivering volatile oil and other hazardous materials in unsafe cars with few, if any, safeguards for the public.

Government isn't doing enough, but another group shoulders at least part of the blame -- environmentalists.

Oil production booms, but new pipeline construction, such as Keystone XL, has been blocked by liberal activists. Five years ago, very little oil was transported on trains, but in 2013, 1 million barrels a day moved by rail in the US, and in 2014 some 1.5 million barrels of oil per day will do so. Estimates are those figures will double again by 2015.

This is a bonanza to railroads, but to the rest of us this is Railway Russian Roulette. Already there have been three near misses. Four months after Quebec's deaths, another derailment and explosion occurred outside an Alabama town without deaths. This was followed by a collision of two trains that resulted in an evacuation of more than 2,000 persons and a 400,000-gallon oil spill. A third derailment and explosion happened in Virginia forcing another evacuation.

Safety is bad enough, but rail is also terrible for the environment. A congressional report this summer revealed that more oil spilled into the environment in 2013 as a result of rail accidents than had occurred in the previous 35 years. A list of suggested reforms was released this summer, but few believe these will take effect soon, if ever.

Despite dangers and lawsuits, governments continue to drag their feet on building pipelines or on cracking down on rail practices. By so doing, they merely increase the likelihood of another tragedy. Every day thousands of old tanker cars carry oil along America's 140,000 miles of track, and another disaster looms. It is just a matter of time.

Opponents of the Keystone Pipeline pat themselves on the back for keeping the Obama administration paralyzed. Meanwhile, the oil continues to be delivered -- in ways more dangerous and dirty.

Is this really what environmentalists want?

Additional note: Post readers added the fact that the railway beneficiaries, and train car manufacturers, are owned by Warren Buffet and Carl Icahn holding companies. The rich get richer and the cost to the rest of the population grows.

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Lac-Megantic Aerial Views