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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Train explosions: Could they happen here?


     One of the facts of which you may not have been aware is that the amount of oil being transported by rail car today.  The chart above shows the dramatic increase in a 10 year period.  The amount of oil being drilled by fracking can not all be transported by oil pipelines.  The problem is that our neglected, outdated rail lines go through many of our cities.  The collapse of the roadway in Baltimore last week is only one example of this fact.  While the road collapse left many nearby residents unable to live in their homes for a short time there is another type of rail accident that has much more dramatic impacts.


   The explosion shown above also happened in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia last week when oil cars derailed and exploded.  The train was on its way to Norfork and would have gone through Williamsburg.  As the Fire Chief of Williamsburg stated:
   "It definitely raises concerns," said Williamsburg Fire Chief William Dent. "We have some minimal resources here. The worst-case scenario for his department, Dent said, would be an oil-train derailment on a stretch of CSX track passing between the College of William & Mary and the popular Williamsburg historic area. Some buildings on both sides would have to be evacuated, and the department would have to call on neighboring localities for help responding to the disaster."
     The impact on a town was seen last July when an explosion of a train carrying oil in the Canadian town 
Lac Maganti, Quebec destroying most of the downtown area and killing 13 people.



Lac Megantic, Quebec,
The map below of CSX rail lines carrying crude oil shows trains going through many metropolitan areas of the East Coast.  The section going through our area is often called the I-95 rail line along the East Coast.


   To see the danger of train fires we only have to remember back to the 2001 chemical fire in the Howard Street tunnel  pictured below that burned for 5 days.

    Train derailments are not unknown in Howard County as the derailment that spilled coal and killed two young girls in 2012 in the heart of Ellicott City as shown in the photo from WAMU shown below.


    We can only imagine what would have happened to downtown Ellicott City if those coal cars had been oil or chemicals and an explosion had occurred.  Last week Rachael Maddow did a detailed look at this increasing danger of transporting oil by rail car.  Worth the 20 minutes to listen to her report.
   
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