COLUMN-Oil train fires reveal problematic safety culture: Kemp

Mon Mar 9, 2015 9:02am EDT
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(John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own)

By John Kemp

LONDON, March 9 (Reuters) - Two more serious derailments and fires involving trains carrying crude oil in the past week confirm there is a serious problem with the safety culture on North American railroads.

The latest fiery derailments occurred in northern Illinois involving a train operated by BNSF and northern Ontario involving a train operated by Canadian National Railway.

They come just weeks after serious oil train fires in West Virginia involving a train operated by CSX and another Canadian National derailment in northern Ontario.

Fortunately, these derailments occurred in sparsely populated areas, but it is only a matter of time before a train derails in a densely populated urban centre and risks a mass casualty incident.

The U.S. Department of Transportation predicts more than 200 crude and ethanol carrying trains will derail over the next 20 years, including ten in urban areas.

Based on plausible assumptions, at least one of these urban derailments could cause a catastrophic accident with deaths, injuries, damage to property and environment clean up costing $6 billion.

The 200-plus predicted incidents will cost more than $18 billion in total, according to the Department of Transportation ("Oil by rail shipments are playing Russian roulette" Feb 23).   Continued...