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Meeting on Rail Safety

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The derailment in Lynchburg of a CSX train carrying Bakken crude oil in April could have been much worse … and procedures and policies should be revised to mitigate future risk. 

That’s the conclusion of a hearing in Richmond led by U.S. Senator Mark Warner… along with emergency responders, public agency heads, and corporate officials.  One focus was on the vulnerabilities of transporting oil—and how to prevent such accidents from ever occurring.

Warner said 46 times more oil is shipped on U.S. rail cars than in 2008, and that volume creates a challenge. In Lynchburg, 17 cars derailed and three fell into the James River, but the spectacular fire was caused by the rupture of only one car as its crude oil burned. Warner noted that rail companies do not own most cars.

“The car that actually ruptured in Lynchburg was actually one of the safer, newer cars. So the question is even are the newer cars going to be safe enough with the volatility of this Bakken crude—and are there other things that can be done both with the new cars and retrofitting older cars that can increase safety?"

Warner said companies must find out exactly how much more volatile Bakken crude is and whether the mixture can be modified to make it less so. He also said localities should be warned in real time what’s passing through, and smaller localities may not have the personnel or equipment to respond to such crises.

Warner added that new laws or regulations may be needed, but it’s in the economic self-interest of producers and distributors to tackle those vulnerabilities and ensure the safety of transporting oil.

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