Quebec Oil Train Disaster – It Could Happen in Your Town

The train explosion involving a 73-car crude oil unit train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec on July 6 serves as a sobering example of what can happen in your town.

The train’s oil was being transported from the Bakken Oil Region in North Dakota to New Brunswick to be refined. The incident occurred just 10 miles from the Maine border.

Rail shipments of crude oil are on the increase because of limited pipeline capacity in the Bakken region and in Canada. Unit trains carrying crude oil are traversing urban areas across the United States and Canada because our cities were connected years ago by railroads. In some cases, unit trains are blocking off entire portions of some urban areas because they can only unload so many cars at a time.

Lessons learned from this tragedy include the importance of first responders’ initial protective actions and reviewing railroad procedures for properly securing brakes on parked trains. In fires involving truck tankers or rail tank cars, when there is any question about the capacity to extinguish the fire, implementing protection actions such as area evacuations should take precedence.

Given the enormity of what has happened with this runaway train, you can be sure federal, state and local officials are taking a closer look at railroad operations and protocols. Crude oil is not considered an Extremely Hazardous Substance, such as chlorine gas or anhydrous ammonia. However, this tragic incident illustrates risks of hazmat rail transport at a time when crude oil shipments are increasing in the United States and Canada.


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