In recent years, small towns across the United States have begun hosting an increasingly common phenomenon: long trains, made up of 100-plus black cylindrical cars, rolling slowly past our hospitals, schools and homes.
Few who see them know what they carry: highly flammable crude oil from the shale fields around North Dakota.
I live in the Hudson Valley and see these trains daily; Albany is a major hub, and trains traveling south down the Hudson River toward mid-Atlantic refineries hug its shores. Every day on the East Coast, as many as 400,000 barrels of this explosive mixture travel through our backyards over shaky bridges, highways and overpasses.
As this Op-Doc video shows, there are reasons to be very concerned about this increased train traffic, which is directly related to the boom in oil and gas drilling in the Midwest. These trains can be very dangerous, prompting some to call them “bomb trains.” There have already beenhorrific railway accidents in North America caused when these trains go off the tracks, some of them fatal.
No one wants the responsibility, or expense, of improving the safety of the cars, fuel, tracks or related infrastructure that would reduce the threat. While new regulations are expected in May from the United States Department of Transportation, environmentalists are not hopeful for much change — given the powerful lobbying efforts of the oil and rail industries.
Already this year there have been four serious derailments, resulting in spills, explosions and fires. Safety and Homeland Security officials have mentioned these “rolling bombs” as potential terrorist weapons. And the Department of Transportation has estimated that at this rate there will be 15 major accidents in the United States this year alone. I hope we will do our best to prevent them.