Increasing Safeguards for Crude Oil Trains

The July 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, of a crude oil train triggered many federal actions in Canada and the United States as crude oil shipments by rail skyrocketed.

Some U.S. states are taking actions to better prepare their infrastructure for crude oil trains and also to equip their emergency responders to respond when a train moving crude oil derails. Two months after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf endorsed a new report recommending more frequent track testing and inspections, lower speeds by railroads for their crude oil trains, and full-scale emergency response exercises, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that his state would deploy 19 trailers equipped with firefighting foam to fire departments and county hazmat teams throughout the state for combating fires and spills involving crude oil or other ignitable liquids. Cuomo described the action as "the latest in a multi-pronged effort to prepare state and local authorities in the event of a crude oil disaster."

The state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services will place the trailers near population centers located along major rail lines and waterways throughout the state. It has assigned the first six trailers to jurisdictions with the most limited resources and the remainder to areas that have some existing resources; all units are to be deployed and operational by early 2016. The trailers supply Class B foam, which forms a blanket over ignitable liquids, suppressing blazes and preventing them from spreading or reigniting.

"Foam trailer firefighting equipment gives first responders the best technology to fight crude oil fires and prevent the flames from spreading to a larger area. I applaud the governor's commitment to helping local fire departments and hazardous materials teams acquire the needed equipment to help keep our communities safe," said John Melville, commissioner of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

The July 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, of a train transporting crude oil, spilling almost 6 million liters of crude that ignited into a fireball, killing 47 people, triggered numerous federal actions in Canada and the United States as crude oil shipments by rail skyrocketed. These two states are doing what they can to be ready for a serious incident like this within their own borders.

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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