Planetizen - Urban Planning News, Jobs, and Education

Five Days after DOT Releases Crude-by-Rail Rule, Another Oil Train Explodes

Critics warned that a Department of Transportation rule allowing up to 10 years to phase out existing oil tank cars would result in more explosions. The rule was issued on May 1; an explosion occurred May 6.
May 8, 2015, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email Comments

"It was at least the sixth oil train accident in North America this year, and like several of those previous accidents, it involved a newer generation of tank cars that were built to be more durable," writes Jad Mouawad for The New York Times. "BNSF [Railway] said that the tank cars involved in the derailment were unjacketed CPC-1232 cars, a newer model built since 2011 that has to be phased out within five years under the new safety rules."

The train derailed Wednesday morning, May 6 at 7:30 am CDT, approximately 50 miles east of Minot, N.D. It was carrying crude from the Bakken shale region of North Dakota—the oil that has been most associated with these types of explosionsand caused the evacuation of 40 people in Heimdal.

The train consisted of 109 total cars — 107 loaded with crude oil and two buffer cars with sand, according to BNSF. The engine and cars that were not burning were decoupled from the burning cars, said Cecily Fong, spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services.

On her Wednesday evening broadcast on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow indicated that the tank cars were still burning (per BNSF, fires extinguished as of May 7, Thursday, at 7:30 am). She compared oil trains, now technically called "high-hazard flammable trains” (HHFT), to "playing bumper cars with Ford Pintos."

The explosion coming so soon after the issuance of the DOT rule on rail cars, two years in the making, illustrates the warnings of critics such as the Sierra Club's Lena Moffitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Dirty Fuels Campaign.

“The Department of Transportation got it wrong with its so-called safety regulations for oil tank cars. Rather than accept these wholly inadequate rules, which jeopardize health and safety of communities along rail lines, the administration should place a moratorium on bomb trains outright,” said Lena Moffitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Dirty Fuels Campaign. [Sierra Club Environmental Law Program]

"Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, praised the Department of Transportation’s action on Friday [referring to the new rule] but said the regulatory schedule would still allow dangerous cars to remain on the tracks for too long," writes Mouawad. 

"Federal officials have said that Friday’s new rules were not final and that more action would be coming to improve rail safety." It will be interesting to see what further improvements DOT issues.

Full Story:
Published on Wednesday, May 6, 2015 in The New York Times - Energy & Environment
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email