Stop Dangerous Oil Train Spills

River Railcar Oil Spill

Target: Robert C. Lauby, Chief Safety Officer, U.S. Federal Railroad Administration

Goal: Prevent derailment of trains carrying dangerous crude oil.

In the first ten weeks of 2015 alone, there have been at least four separate oil spills caused by derailed trains. Most recently, 21 tank cars derailed in Illinois, spilling around 30,000 gallons of crude oil into the Galena and Mississippi Rivers and causing massive fires and damage. Despite increased safety regulations, disastrous spills like this continue to pile up in the U.S. and Canada. The safety and environmental concerns of these accidents are too great to ignore. Both the Federal Railroad Association (FRA) and railroad companies need to make preventing these accidents a top priority.

A rapid increase in the supply of crude oil has led to more transportation by railcar, which has pushed trains and railroad infrastructure to their limits. Safety regulations put into place for rail transport are clearly not working; in addition to high speeds, operator fatigue, and icy weather, analyses have shown that the number one cause of derailment is defective or broken rails and track welds. Railcars are derailing at an alarming rate, and it calls to question if enough is being done to prevent it.

Governmental agencies and rail companies have made efforts to improve the safety of railroads and cars that carry toxic crude oil. The FRA requires railroads to have a low track failure rate, and the U.S. DOT requires railroads to perform additional inspections on rails carrying 20 or more crude oil tank cars. Railroad companies are required to take measures to improve the safety of oil trains, including added brake power, reduced train speeds, skid protection, and modified valves.

Even with these supposed efforts and the design of safer tank cars, thousands of gallons of crude oil continue to spill into waterways. For the sake of the environment, railroad workers, and citizens in surrounding areas, the FRA must make crude oil tank car and rail safety a priority. It must invest in defect detection technology, continuous rail testing, and further preventative regulations. Demand that railroad companies take these safety concerns seriously, because one more oil spill is too many.


Dear Mr. Lauby,

Despite the efforts to increase railroad safety and regulations, tank cars continue to derail and spill crude oil into our rivers. With four spills already in 2015, it is clear that something more must be done to prevent these dangerous accidents. Not only is the safety of citizens a concern, but also the harmful impact to the environment.

If we are going to continue to transport crude oil by rail, it is imperative that tougher safety regulations are implemented and railroad tracks are continually maintained. Many efforts to make this transportation safer, including safer tank cars, have already been agreed upon by the FRA and railroad companies. But this needs to be a top priority for all parties in order to stop future derailments and spills.

The FRA needs to invest substantial time and money into researching and designing even safer tank cars, as well as implementing preventative regulations such as safer speeds and bigger rail crews. There needs to be research into track defect detection technology and sensors, as well as near-continuous rail testing and maintenance.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: lagohsep via Flickr

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