Transporting crude oil by rail is not a new phenomenon. It has, however, increased markedly due to the ever-increasing rate of oil production in recent years, which has summarily outpaced the capacity of the existing pipeline infrastructure. The only other feasible alternative is to transport the excess oil by rail.
Transporting oil by rail offers flexibility. In fact, the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota supply nearly a million barrels of crude oil per day with nearly three quarters of it transported by rail. While a recent uptick in crude oil train accidents have highlighted the risks inherit in handling, transporting and processing crude oil, train accidents have seen a decrease of over 90 percent since 1980.
In an effort to safely transport crude oil via rail, U.S. railroads and rail car manufacturers have acknowledged that the safety of some older model tank cars is deficient by modern standards and may require certain upgrades to be able to handle safely transporting crude oil. It is important to note that although railroads have taken it upon themselves to adopt new safety standards since 2011, none of these new safety standards are yet mandated by law and, therefore, railroads are not legally required to abide by them.
Among the steps that railroads have voluntarily adopted is to agree to slow down the speed of oil transporting trains in a list of 45 locations that they have designated as high threat urban areas, with the Twin Cities in Minnesota being included on that list. As of March 2014, the train speed has been lowered by 10 miles per hour from 50 mph to 40 mph. Railroads have also instituted more frequent track and car inspections, as well as adopting more strict rules of operation and improving their hazmat documentation. Companies like BNSF have committed to building new cars that use thicker walls and have agreed to retire older rail cars.
Given the increase in train traffic and transport of crude oil, a train derailment or an accident in a populated area can be devastating and result in significant environmental damage and personal injury. For anyone who has questions regarding train accidents and their rights, it may be beneficial to contact a personal injury law firm.
Source: Minnesota Department of Transportation, “Crude-by-rail transportation and safety in Minnesota,” Accessed April 13, 2015