Minnesota residents have likely heard and read about the increased rail traffic in the Twin Cities. This recent boom in oil production is from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota, and oil companies have had to resort to transporting the oil to refineries via railroad. Once the oil is pumped and collected, it is transported for further processing to refineries that are located on the East and West Coasts, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.
On their journeys to their final destinations, these oil-laden rail cars have to travel through some 400 different counties and densely populated metropolitan areas. This includes Minneapolis, Minnesota.
This increase in railroad traffic has led to numerous accidents that have resulted in explosions spawning fiery infernos fed by the very oil the rail cars are carrying. Nearly 50 people have lost their lives to these train accidents thus far.
As the criticism has grown from state and local officials and even members of Congress over the safety of oil transportation by rail, in an attempt to assuage the outrage over the issue, the White House has instructed the Department of Transportation to issue an emergency order requiring any and all trains carrying either crude oil or any other equally hazardous or flammable liquids to reduce their speed as they travel through any urban areas.
Although railroads have voluntarily agreed to reduce train speeds to 40 miles per hour when passing through highly populated areas, the emergency order now makes it a requirement. It also extends the requirement to not just oil carrying tank cars but to those carrying other flammable liquids like ethanol. The emergency order also applies to all rail cars regardless of their age, whereas the voluntary agreement only applied to older tank cars that were more liable to rupture in the event of derailment.
Source: Minnesota Public Radio, “Feds order oil trains to slow down through cities,” April 17, 2015