Target: Robert C. Lauby, Chief Safety Officer, U.S. Federal Railroad Administration
Goal: Pressure railroad companies to provide timely shipping reports for safety precautions
Rail shipment of oil has increased significantly in the past few years and continues to rise. California alone anticipates shipments from Canada and North Dakota to rise from 1% in 2013 to 25% by 2016. One railway car can hold up to 30,000 gallons of oil. It is estimated that almost a million barrels of crude oil are being shipped each day throughout America by railcar. Considering the sheer volume of this flammable substance passing through urban and residential areas, concerns from local authorities for emergency preparedness are at the forefront.
Reports of oil trains derailing, catching fire and/or spilling their contents have been growing. Lynchburg, Virginia had an oil train derail and catch fire along the James River causing evacuation. A train carrying 100-cars of crude oil detailed under Magnolia Bridge in Seattle. In Alabama, a train detailed and caught fire. In Quebec there was a recent death toll count after a train broke track and destroyed a downtown district. Local municipalities and first-responders in multiple states have been assessing risks and requesting shipping manifests so their teams can be on alert.
In California one major rail company complied with a request for shipping manifest but when it was turned into the state, the information was outdated and included data for the prior week, not nearly what the authorities needed for protection planning. Maryland is currently facing a lawsuit from another major railway that does not want to disclose their shipping information. Under the guise of their concern for domestic security, these railways have been allowed to get away with not disclosing their shipments. In reality, these companies do not want their shipments public, as they fear competition then be able to access it and steal clients. These companies are putting civilians and rescue operatives at risk in an effort to protect their profits.
Dear Mr. Lauby,
Large rail shipments of oil are passing through residential and urban areas of great traffic and the emergency first-responders are in need of shipping information for these transports.
As you are aware, when these oil cars derail not only are they a source containment spills into the local environment, but they can also ignite, causing life-threatening situations to the local populace. Local firefighters are at a handicap when they do not receive prior notice of potentially dangerous materials passing through their areas.
I implore you, make whatever efforts necessary to force these railway companies to release their shipping manifests to emergency personnel and local authorities prior to their travel. With any emergency, preparedness is key. Give these local authorities the chance to be prepared.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Roy Luck via Wikimedia Commons