Quebec Rail Disaster Revives Oil Pipeline vs. Crude-By-Rail Debate

In a scene reminiscent of the Denzel Washington movie "Unstoppable", but without the heroic ending, an unmanned, 72-car oil train traveled 7 miles to Lac-Mégantic, pop. 6,000, where it derailed, setting off a fireball downtown. 5 fatalities so far.

Read Time: 2 minutes

July 8, 2013, 2:00 PM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Ian Austen writes of the devastation to the small, tourist town in Quebec, about 150 miles east of Montreal, caused by the rail explosion around 1:15 a.m. on Saturday, July 06. Why the train, operated by the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway began rolling after it had been parked for the night is unclear. What is clear is that "the scale of the explosion and evacuation already would rank the accident as one of North America's most dramatic rail incidents in recent years", write Carolyn King, David George-Cosh and Alistair MacDonald in the Wall Street Journal. 

The explosion sheds light on the safety issues associated with the transition of oil transport from pipeline to "crude-by-rail", and the pending application of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline to ship oil sands crude from Alberta to Gulf region refineries.  While the MM&A oil train carried oil from North Dakota's Williston Basin that had been shipped to Quebec by Canadian Pacific, destined for the Irving Oil Ltd. refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick, the safety concerns are the same. The route would have taken it through Maine.

"An analysis of the pipeline plan for the State Department concluded that if the pipeline was rejected, oil sands producers would instead turn to railways for shipments to the United States", writes Austen.

Speaking in New York in May, (Canadian Prime Minister Stephen) Harper emphasized that the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to an increase in oil sands shipments by rail, which he called “more environmentally challenging” than pipelines.

To read a chilling description of the crash when it occurred, Carolyn King and David George-Cosh of the Wall Street Journal interviewed revelers at Lac-Mégantic's Musi-Café, "a popular patio bar near the railroad tracks", who experienced firsthand the early-morning explosion.

Monday, July 8, 2013 in The New York Times

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Sharrow bike markings on black asphalt two-lane road with snowy trees

Early Sharrow Booster: ‘I Was Wrong’

The lane marking was meant to raise awareness and instill shared respect among drivers and cyclists. But their inefficiency has led supporters to denounce sharrows, pushing instead for more robust bike infrastructure that truly protects riders.

January 26, 2023 - Streetsblog USA

View of stone-paved street with pedestrians and "Farmers Market" neon sign on left and old buildings on right in Seattle, Washington

Push and Pull: The Link Between Walkability and Affordability

The increased demand for walkable urban spaces could make them more and more exclusionary if cities don’t pursue policies to limit displacement and boost affordability.

January 27, 2023 - Smart Cities Dive

Aerial view from directly overhead of buses parked in large asphalt lot

U.S. Transit Agencies Face a Financial Crisis

Transit providers around the country are scrambling to find new sources of revenue to replace lagging ridership and reorienting their systems to a future less dependent on daily commuters.

6 hours ago - Smart Cities Dive

Water SUpply

California Rejects Six-State Colorado River Plan, Proposes Its Own

State officials claim a proposal agreed upon by the other six states using Colorado River water disproportionately impacts California farmers.

7 hours ago - Los Angeles Times

Pedestrians in zebra crosswalk with green bike lane in downtown Seattle, Washington with three-story brick building in background

Washington Focuses Road Safety Efforts on Individuals, Neglecting Design

Legislative efforts to reduce traffic deaths could move the needle toward Vision Zero, but state leaders failed to commit infrastructure funds to making structural improvements.

February 1 - The Urbanist