Has hell frozen? That was my first reaction, when the Wall Street Journal wrote in its January 17th edition about a meeting between the American Petroleum Institute, railroad companies, and federal regulators the following:
"The oil industry went further, blaming the railroads for failing to
prevent derailments, and blasting regulators for not imposing new safety
rules. 'The DOT needs to do more than just host meetings,' said
director of media relations for the API."
API's Wohlsclegel then said this: "We're calling on the
DOT to take action."
The API is rightly sounding the alarm about the lax safety of oil trains, loaded with flammable, explosive North Dakota crude.
One such train exploded in Canada, destroying blocks of a small town and killing 47 people, many of them in their sleep. Three more oil train fireballs have taken place since then, though fortunately not next to homes. Despite the volatility of the North Dakota crude, these oil trains frequently transport the crude in tankers that are being phased out, because they too readily rupture.
The oil trains that transport the North Dakota crude often move through major metropolitan areas like the Philadelphia region. And during the early morning hours of Monday night an oil train actually derailed in Philadelphia near a river and closed a major road for hours.
The combination of the flammable, explosive North Dakota crude in old tankers that rupture too easily when derailed traveling within yards of homes and businesses is what has the API screaming for more regulation. Right now!
Let me join the chorus! The United States Department of Transportation must act strongly now. But more must be done by state officials charged with protecting the public safety of their citizens.
In Pennsylvania, I call on Governor Corbett to convene an emergency meeting to protect the safety of Pennsylvanians. The meeting must include state officials, railroads transporting North Dakota crude in the Commonwealth, municipal officials through which the trains now travel, emergency response personnel, American Petroleum Institute and others.
The Governor should insist that the rails over which these trains travel be carefully and immediately inspected. He should further insist that trains carrying North Dakota crude in Pennsylvania transport it in modern, puncture resistant tankers and not ones that are being phased out as unsafe. He also must make sure that new, strict low speed limits for these trains be set and enforced.
I also call for a fee to be enacted on each tanker of crude that is transported in Pennsylvania that would help pay for the equipment and training first responders must have so that they can respond effectively in the event of an oil train explosion.
Yesterday's train derailment in Philadelphia provides one more warning. It warns that the risks of a mass casualty disaster are far too high, in many communities, as a result of an oil train derailment and explosion. There is no time to waste in order to protect public safety.