At the NTSB, our 2014 dawned with a team o finvestigators working the scene of a serious railroad accident near Casselton, North Dakota, where 20 cars of a106-car BNSF Railway train carrying petroleum crudeoil collided with cars from a derailed BNSF grain train. More than 476,000 gallons of crude oil were released in the accident, and a massive fire triggered a voluntary evacuation of 1,400 people from the surrounding area and resulted in millions of dollars in damage.
The nation’s railroad network is taking on an expanding role as a major channel for the transportation of crude oil and other hazardous products, which could mean that accidents like the one in Casselton will become more common. While soaring volumes of crude oil and ethanol traveling by rail has been good for business, there is a corresponding obligation to protect our communities and our environment. Everyone – industry, regulators, and first responders – must takea comprehensive approach to eliminate or significantly reduce the safety risks. This approach must include improvements to track inspection and maintenance programs and the crashworthiness of the tank cars that transport these materials.
Next Tuesday and Wednesday, April 22 and 23, the NTSB will hold a forum to address rail safety specific to the transportation of crude oil and ethanol. We have invited researchers, crude oil and ethanol shippers, tank car builders, railroad carriers, emergency responders, and federal regulatory agencies to discuss the safety of crude oil and ethanol transportation by railroad, as well as ways to reduce the consequences from accidents involving flammable liquids through tank car design, railroad operations, and emergency preparedness. As the people of Casselton, North Dakota, can attest, we must do everything we can to ensure that transport of crude oil and ethanol by rail is as safe as it can be.