Two Years After Quebec Disaster, Thousands Rally to #StopOilTrains

Two years ago this week, a 74-car freight train derailed in a Quebec city, killing 47 people. The massive explosion leveled nearly half of the city’s downtown. Since then, we’ve seen at least ten significant oil train accidents across North America, along with more than 200 leaks and other minor incidents in the U.S. alone. 

It’s sheer luck that none of the derailments since Quebec have resulted in widespread death and destruction. But oil trains run through the heart of hundreds of towns and cities, and it’s only a matter of time before we see another devastating incident similar to the Quebec tragedy.

This week, communities across North America are rallying to stop crude-by-rail before the next accident occurs. 

Several environmental and public interest organizations have come together to host the Stop Oil Trains Week of Action. This includes more than 100 events in the U.S. and Canada, including press conferences, community forums, and protests.

You can view this map to see if any events are being held in your community. If you don’t see one, consider creating your own event using this toolkit from ForestEthics.

Communities are taking action because the companies and federal agencies responsible for ensuring trains are safe have been slow to respond.

In May, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released a long-awaited rule to improve the safety of trains carrying hazardous materials, including Bakken crude oil. Beginning Oct. 1, all new tank cars must have shells that are at least 9/16 of an inch thick in order to make them less susceptible to puncturing. Existing cars that do not meet this standard must be retrofitted within two to ten years, depending on car type.

While tougher standards are welcome, the timeline for phase-out is too slow. Some dangerous cars would remain in use for up to ten years.

Similarly, the rule requires rail companies to adopt advanced braking systems that decrease stopping distances, but companies have been given six to eight years to adopt this technology.

With significant oil train derailments occurring every two or three months, we cannot afford this long delay in adopting these improvements.

Rail companies are enjoying a surge in profits and can afford stronger rail cars and upgraded safety technology.

The volume of crude oil shipped by rail has increased more than 4,000 percent since 2008, contributing to a steady rise in profits for major railroad companies. With this new business comes an increased risk of accidents, and companies should be using some of their profits to invest in the technology available now that can prevent and mitigate disasters.

Advanced safety technology has been available for decades. But rail companies continue to fight against adopting them, even when federally mandated. Companies have a responsibility to take every possible measure to avoid another devastating derailment.

For more resources and information on how to get involved, visit ForestEthics and the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards.

Photo by flickr user Carol Von Canon, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Ten new or proposed terminals in Washington and Oregon accept Bakken crude, lying between the oil fields and Asia’s thirsty markets. Rail borne, 360,000 barrels per day would pass through Spokane bound for Vancouver. Ever more pipeline and oil trains traverse New Jersey, 15 to 30 trains moving up to 3.6 million gallons of crude from Albany toward Philadelphia. The increasingly opposed pipelines pollute water and air, and lay waste forests and wetlands. A package of bills would improve the safety and transparency of oil trains. Until the country solidifies an energy policy aimed at clean energy, we must emphasize health and safety measures to protect ourselves, our water, and our environment from the collateral damage from unearthing and transporting oil. The Federal Railroad Administration is responsible for enforcing the rules that limit the likelihood of an oil train derailment. Their modus operandi has been to intrude as little as possible on railroad operations. But given the disastrous potential of an oil train explosion in a densely populated area, the FRA needs to shift its mission toward strict enforcement and away from buddy-buddy oversight. Sign the attached petition urging them to put health and safety ahead of profits and add a comment to let them hear from their ultimate bosses, we, the people.
well written