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Train Derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia Refocuses Attention on Minnesota Rail Safety

Updated: 04/30/2014 10:53 PM
Created: 04/30/2014 10:51 PM WDIO.com
By: Tim Sherno, KSTP-TV

A train carrying crude oil jumped its track and burst into flames near Lynchburg, Virginia on Wednesday. The accident is similar to a derailment near Casselton, North Dakota, last December focusing concerns on the transport of oil by rail.

Oil from the Bakken Fields in North Dakota has a lower flash-point and burns hotter than other oil, according to Dave Christianson, Senior Planner of Freight and Rail for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. He says the oil from the Bakken Fields contains more natural gas, "It's much more volatile and dangerous."

The oil passes through the Twin Cities Metro each day. "The train is usually about a mile and a half long, about 110 cars per train, each car is about 60 feet long and carries 100 tons of oil," Christianson says each day as many as 6 trains move through the area, and that number could grow. "By the best of our projections this crude traffic is going to increase in volume, possibly double by this time next year."

Christianson says the rail industry developed new safety standards for tanker cars. "Every car built since then, about 15 to 20,000 cars have been built to that new standard." Christianson says the Federal Government participated in developing those new standards, but didn't official require them. According to Christianson, the Federal Government may require its own standards, if those standards differ from the rail standards, the hope is that tanker cars built to the rail industry's standards will be able to remain in service.

According to Christianson, MnDOT doesn't have much authority over national rail lines, which fall under Federal regulation. "We do inspect the tracks in our state with out own track inspectors, and work with the rail roads on improving at-grade crossings and things of that sort. As much as we can do, we are doing."

Christianson says in light of the Casselton derailment, lawmakers in St.Paul are expected to increase safety measures at the state level, including work on at-grade crossings, especially in areas of greater concern, for example near schools.

With more trains expected, Christianson says MnDOT will work with railroad companies and the Federal Government, "We worry on a regular basis, a city with 3 million population, the Twin Cities Metro area, with 6 crew trains coming through, full, every day we have an on-going daily risk."

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