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Increase in oil trains leads to worries about a major disaster

With railroad traffic increasing, cities in Illinois and across the U.S. are preparing for a major oil train derailment disaster.

As the Bloomington Pantagraph recently reported, cities across the U.S., including in Illinois, are scrambling to prepare for a potential disaster: an oil train derailment in a major urban center. Oil shipments by railroad have increased dramatically in recent years, which has helped put the spotlight on the sort of catastrophic damage a railroad accident could produce in a U.S. city. While federal regulators have taken steps to try to increase railway safety, the railroad industry has pushed back against many of the new rules.

A disaster waiting to happen?

Thanks to a boom in oil production in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale region, the number of trains carrying crude oil in recent years has skyrocketed. As recently as 2008 there were just 9,500 carloads of oil carried in the U.S.; in 2014, that number had ballooned to approximately 500,000.

With some trains stretching a mile in length and carrying nothing but oil, the potential for a major disaster is growing, according to safety critics. For example, two years ago 47 people died when an oil train derailed in the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The U.S. Department of Transportation says that a similar derailment in an American city could lead to over 200 fatalities and billions of dollars in damage. In North America so far this year six oil trains have derailed. Since those derailments occurred in rural areas, they led to no deaths. Nonetheless, city officials and safety regulators worry that it may just be a matter of time before a major disaster happens in a populated area.

Need for regulations

Officials in Illinois are particularly concerned about the threat given that many oil trains destined for refineries on the East Coast pass through the state. According to the Daily Herald, there were a total of 69 train derailments in Illinois during the first five months of this year, up from the 59 derailments that occurred during the same period last year.

Federal regulators have tried to introduce new regulations to increase railroad safety, but they have experienced considerable pushback from industry groups. Most notably, a new federal rule would require railway companies carrying hazardous materials to install an electronic braking system on their trains that could reduce stopping distances by up to 70 percent. The U.S. Department of Transportation claims that with the brakes installed tank cars would be 36 percent less likely to be punctured if involved in a derailment. However, the requirement has led to complaints from railroad companies and at least one lawsuit by an industry group that may delay or stop the requirement from being implemented.

Railroad accidents

With the increase in railroad traffic, the potential for accidents and injuries is also increasing. People who have been injured in a railroad accident – no matter how small or major that accident may have been – need to get in touch with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Railroad accidents are unique in personal injury law and only an attorney who is experienced in handling such cases will be able to give injured clients qualified and expert advice on what steps they can take following their ordeal.


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