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How safe are crude oil trains?

Written by Ankin Law Office

The North American oil boom has generated jobs, revenue and savings for consumers. As many people in Illinois know, it has also resulted in more oil-bearing train traffic. From 2010 to 2014, the number of cars carrying crude oil rose from 29,605 to 493,126, according to The Los Angeles Times. Unfortunately, as personal injury lawyers in Elgin are aware, as traffic has grown, crude oil train accidents have also increased.

Frequent, dangerous crashes

In the last month alone, four crude oil train crashes have occurred in the U.S. and Canada, including one here in Illinois. According to CBS News, the Illinois derailment occurred five miles outside of Galena. Five cars carrying crude oil caught on fire, and firefighters spent more than two days putting out the blaze. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, 13 similar accidents have occurred in the U.S. and Canada since the Lac-Megantic disaster in 2013. During that catastrophic accident, a crude oil train crashed into the Canadian city, killing 47 people. This was the last crude oil train accident in the U.S. or Canada that resulted in fatalities. Still, as personal injury lawyers in Elgin know, critics worry about the potential for more deadly crashes.

Accident risk factors

Various factors may contribute to crude oil train accidents. According to CNBC, some safety experts point to excessive travel speeds and unsafe train car designs. The National Transportation Safety Board has heard testimony that even newer oil car models might prove unsafe during crashes. Additionally, The Los Angeles Times cites the following potential causes of train accidents and derailments:

  • Human error — this was a factor in 38 percent of 2014 crude oil train crashes. Operator health issues or fatigue may exacerbate the risk of these crashes.
  • Car design — crude oil cars are often outfitted with shields, thermal protection and enhanced valves. Still, if these measures aren’t properly designed or implemented, spills and fires may occur after derailment.
  • Railroad construction — the continuous welded tracks used today change size in response to temperature changes. Severe weather may cause significant expansion or contraction of the railroad lines, raising the risk of crashes.

One former NTSB chairman worries crude oil train wrecks have become the nation’s leading safety issue. Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry appears undeterred by the safety risks. Without regulatory interference, these accidents may continue occurring frequently.

Recourse for victims

When oil train crashes occur due to preventable factors, accident victims may have legal recourse. Victims who suffer injuries may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, wage loss, long-term disablement and emotional suffering. These individuals may benefit from meeting with personal injury lawyers in Elgin to better understand their legal rights and options.

Categories: Personal Injury