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Oil Train Explosion Triggers Evacuation In North Dakota 199

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-put-it-on-amtrak dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "The LA Times reports that the small town of Casselton, North Dakota dodged a bullet after being partially evacuated when a train carrying crude oil collided with another train, setting off a large fire and explosions. Officials received a report at 2:12 p.m. of a train derailing about a mile west of Casselton, a city of 2,432 people about 20 miles west of Fargo. At some point, another train collided with the derailed train, belonging to the BNSF Railway, carrying more than 100 cars loaded with crude oil. The explosions and fire erupted after cars from a grain train struck some of the oil tank cars. 'A fire ensued, and quickly a number of the cars became engulfed,' said Sgt. Tara Morris of the Cass County Sheriff's Office, adding that firefighters had managed to detach 50 of the 104 cars but had to leave the rest. This was the fourth serious accident involving trains hauling crude in North America this year. In July, an unattended train with 72 tank cars carrying crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken shale fields rolled downhill and set off a major explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. The accidents have put a spotlight on the growing reliance on rail to move surging oil production from new fields in Texas, North Dakota and Colorado. U.S. railroads are moving 25 times more crude than they did in 2008, often in trains with more than 100 tank cars that each carry 30,000 gallons. Though railroads have sharply improved their safety in recent years, moving oil on tank cars is still only about half as safe as in pipelines, according to Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane University Energy Institute. 'You can make the argument that the pipeline fights have forced the industry to revert to rail that is less safe,' says Smith. One problem is that the trains go through small towns with volunteer fire departments, not well schooled in handling a derailment and explosion. Casselton Mayor Ed McConnell says it is time to 'have a conversation' with federal lawmakers about the dangers of transporting oil by rail. 'There have been numerous derailments in this area,' says McConnell. 'It's almost gotten to the point that it looks like not if we're going to have an accident, it's when.'"
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Oil Train Explosion Triggers Evacuation In North Dakota

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @03:33AM (#45835393)

    Thank everyone against the pipeline.

  • by AtomicSnarl (549626) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @03:52AM (#45835431) Homepage
    I don't recall ever hearing about a pipeline colliding with another pipeline. Pump failures, punctures, and such maybe.

    Anybody have statistics on ton-miles transported per accident rate for petroleum pipelines vs railroad tank cars?
  • by buss_error (142273) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @03:54AM (#45835441) Homepage Journal

    Ordinarily tracks next to a derailed train are closed, being considered unsafe until a track inspector or officer OKs it's use.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @04:16AM (#45835483)

    We have 47 people exploded and vaporized thanks to the last oil train explosion in Quebec. I don't see that happening in the pipeline oil spills you mentioned. Are there any that have resulted in mass deaths yet?

  • by Demonantis (1340557) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @04:57AM (#45835561)
    The issue is demand. Demand will be met with supply. A route of transportation will be found. Similar to drugs. I just hope it doesn't get banned on trains and end up in tractor trailers.
  • by blindseer (891256) <blindseer@earth[ ]k.net ['lin' in gap]> on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @05:25AM (#45835617)

    Pipelines by their nature are run through low population areas, the land is cheaper and fewer people to complain about. Trains by their nature run through high population areas. Rail carries a variety of cargo, cargo that people need. If the rail does not stop at as many population centers as possible that rail does not make as much money. Pipeline on the other hand only needs to serve two customers, the supplier and the consumer, so the path can avoid the population.

    I've seen some spectacular failures of pipelines before, some notable ones were from poor site choices. One I recall is from a rocket fuel plant built on top of a large natural gas pipeline. That just had "fail" written all over it.

    The argument isn't if transporting oil is safe, it isn't. Nothing is "safe", even hiding under the bed from the evil world contains the risk of getting killed from a meteor strike. The argument is if the pipeline would have been safer than transport by rail. There is little evidence that the train is safer.

    If you want to argue about the safety of oil transport then I'll have that argument. I'd then demonstrate the statistical safety, low cost, and minimal carbon output of nuclear power.

  • by NicBenjamin (2124018) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:05AM (#45836257)

    What apparently happened is that a grain train derailed and hit the oil train. Apparently only one of the trains belonged to a major carrier which can afford the latest safety equipment. I suspect that a) the derailing grain train was the one that didn't belong to BNSF, or b) the oil train wasn't supposed to be on that track at the same time as another train was on the other track due to high risk of derailment.

    North American railroads are actually quite advanced at doing what they do, which is move ridiculous amounts of freight very long distances very cheaply. Diesel is cheap, electrification is expensive because it means you have to add power equipment of some kind to every mile of track, therefore they don't use electric motive power. Diesel dominance makes electrification even more expensive because your second-hand locomotive market is all diesel. Mechanics all have extensive training on Diesel engines, some of which transfers over to electric, but some doesn't. Any employee you poach from another road because he's got decades of experience you can;t get from a fresh-faced college kid has that experience with diesels. There are virtually no North American vendors selling electric motive power. The fact that government doesn't support railroads anymore means this won't change. It's not like the bond market would actually give a rail executive enough money to electrify all his track, re-train his mechanics, etc. just because he thinks it will pay off in 25 years.

    Speed of any kind is expensive. It leads to wear on mechanical parts, which need to be replaced more often. It requires higher grades of track. Accidents (mostly derailments) are worse because you have more momentum at greater speeds; which in turn means your insurance rates go up. And if you're a transportation company in a country that pays jet pilots $20k, still has a postal monopoly that delivers to every house in the country within a week, and also has multiple package companies that pride themselves on doing it tomorrow, there just isn't much demand for fast freight. So instead of investing money in figuring out how to get your locomotives to break 100 MPH, you invest money in reliability at 30 MPH. If your double tracks are only running 150% of the trains of your single tracks you don't invest money in marketing to get them up to capacity, you invest money in increasing your single tracks capacity so that you can tear up the double-track and stop maintaining it.

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @11:22AM (#45836911) Journal

    (securely, of course, because we wouldn't want everyone to know what is moving where)

    Wait...why? This is a commercial shipment. It's not the old west where we have regular train robberies. There's no reason why the DOT hazard designation and classes can't be accessible. Except, of course, the people who go cray when you try and ship tankers of hazardous materials through their back yards. Best not to let them know or they might make a stink about it.

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