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Train derailments on the rise

Minnesota residents may be interested to learn that according to projections released by the federal government, train derailments affecting trains that haul crude oil or ethanol gas will occur at an average rate of ten times annually over the next 20 years. The train derailments are expected to create over four billion dollars' worth of damage. The government predicts that the derailments will also be responsible for killing hundreds of people if they should occur in areas that are densely populated.

The federal government's projections are based on the ever increasing volume of flammable liquid fuel that has skyrocketed in the last 10 years as a direct result of the oil shale boom in states like North Dakota and Montana. In fact, this year alone almost 900,000 tankers will transport oil and liquid ethanol by rail. Each tanker is capable of holding about 30,000 gallons of fuel. According to federal government projections which take into account this year's projected shipping volumes and the current rail routes, 2015 will see an estimated 15 derailments. By 2034, the estimated yearly derailments are expected to taper off to about five a year.

Adding relevance to the study is train derailment that recently occurred in West Virginia which ignited an intense fire that forced hundreds of families to evacuate their homes while fire fighters worked to bring the blaze under control. The train was transporting crude oil that was extracted from the Northern Plains' Bakken region when it derailed and spilled its tankers contents which then ignited catastrophically.

As a result of these projections, safety officials have been pushing to have regulations introduced that compel the industry to produce and use stronger tankers that are less susceptible and less prone to fracturing and leaking should they derail or get impacted. The industry is pushing back arguing that the tanker cars are already extremely safe and strong and that the proposed regulation changes will not affect whether derailments occur or not.

Source: MPR News, "Fuel-hauling trains could derail at 10 a year," Feb. 22, 2015

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