Click to enlarge — AP Photo/Marcus Constantino
The fiery derailment of a train carrying crude oil in West Virginia is one of three in the past year involving tank cars that already meet a higher safety standard than what federal law requires – leading some to suggest even tougher requirements that industry representatives say would be costly.
Costly to who?
Hundreds of families were evacuated and nearby water treatment plants were temporarily shut down after cars derailed from a train carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude Monday, shooting fireballs into the sky, leaking oil into a Kanawha River tributary and burning down a house nearby. It was snowing at the time, but it is not yet clear if weather was a factor.
The fire smoldered for a third day Wednesday. State public safety division spokesman Larry Messina said the fire was 85 percent contained.
The train’s tanks were a newer model – the 1232 – designed during safety upgrades voluntarily adopted by the industry four years ago. The same model spilled oil and caught fire in Timmins, Ontario on Saturday, and last year in Lynchburg, Virginia.
A series of ruptures and fires have prompted the administration of President Barack Obama to consider requiring upgrades such as thicker tanks, shields to prevent tankers from crumpling, rollover protections and electronic brakes that could make cars stop simultaneously, rather than slam into each other.
If approved, increased safety requirements now under White House review would phase out tens of thousands of older tank cars being used to carry highly flammable liquids.
Between “optimized profits” and bought-and-paid-for elected officials ranging from the state level to the hog trough that is Congress – railroads and oil companies figure they may as well be self-insured instead of making life a little safer for folks who live near the tracks. It’s as simple as that.
Which means it takes pressure from other ordinary folks around the country to get improved safety.