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Despite Lac-Megantic Train Accident, Trains Will Still Be Used for Crude Oil
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The recent fiery inferno of a train accident in Quebec, which featured an unmanned train loaded with crude oil plummeting into a small city and blowing up dozens of buildings won’t change the use of trains for delivering crude oil. Right now, places like North Dakota are producing crude oil at volumes far greater than predicted, and at $3 a gallon they compare beautifully with imports that are as high as $35 a gallon. There’s too much money to be made transporting the preponderance of crude, and that means we’ll continue using trains.

Not that trains are even the major way to transport crude. Most crude is transported through pipeline and trucks. Its just that pipeline are long-term investments that require time for permits to be signed, and property to be bought, and though safer and less expensive, they are not an overnight venture.


Nor is crude the most dangerous thing to deliver by railway. Such substances as chlorine, phosphoric acid, propane, and even ethanol are more dangerous than crude. “Oil isn’t scary at all,” said Mayor Richard Gerbounka, of Linden, N.J., according to the Associated Press.

What makes crude more dangerous than, say, ammonia, is the sheer volume in which it is transported, with “unit trains” carrying as much as 100 cars full of oil, whereas other cargos such as chlorine usually are shipped with 2 or 3 cars full.

A place for reform may be the use of DOT-111 cars, which have  high tendency to fail when they derail. “You can expect them to fail,” said Bob Chipkevich, a former director of railroad, pipeline, and hazardous materials investigations at the National Transportation Safety Board. “They need to be improved.”

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Though only 1.4 percent of rail traffic is crude, that’s still an incredible increase, a change from 500 carloads in 2009 to 178,000 carloads in the first half of this year. As the industry is booming, it makes sense they will still use trains to keep up with the greater transportation needs, despite tragedies like that in the Lac-Megantic accident that incinerated a small town.


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