The dangers of crude oil trains and the new rules to help

The Dangers of 'Bomb Trains'
The Dangers of 'Bomb Trains'

WGN -- Some call them bomb trains. They are trains loaded with crude oil and some head straight through Chicago-area towns.

Since February, four of these trains have derailed in the U.S. and Canada and caused fiery explosions.

One happened 160 miles outside Chicago in Galena.

No one was killed in these incidents but that wasn't the case in 2013 when a crude oil train derailed and exploded in Quebec killing 47 people.

The Dept. of Transportation says more crude oil is being shipped by rail than ever before. In 2008, about 9500 car loads of crude were transported in the U.S. I n 2014,that number jumped to nearly 500,000. In addition, the majority of the crude being shipped is now more volatile.

Safety advocates have been pushing the Dept. of Transportation to set new guidelines to help prevent this kind of disaster. On Friday, they announced new rules. The rules are to help improve safety on the rails and include phase- in requirements for safer tank cars, better brakes and reduced speeds.

However some say it's not enough.

Tom Weitzel is the police chief in Riverside and says the rules are step in the right direction but he also wants the government to focus on response.

"We would have to immediately start evacuating apt complexes bus districts, even our own police facility," he says.

He's pushing for it to require the railroads to train first responders including police officers, so they develop partnerships and are prepared for the worst.

On its own, the railroad industry has stepped up its training exercises recently. It offers a crude safety course in Colorado. Some responders say the course is hard to get in to but the Association of American Railroads says each year freight railroads also train more than 20,000 first responders in local communities.

The railroad industry is also starting to roll out a new app called "Ask Rail" that will be available to first responders and detail information on the specifics of what trains are carrying..

Some of the railroads are also starting to roll out their own websites that will give first responders a better look at "near-time" train information.

But there's no requirement or streamlined standard. And some first responders are still having trouble getting real time information on exactly when and what is coming through their towns.

Safety advocates in the Chicago area say in the months ahead, they'll continue to push the government for stricter standards to help prevent a disaster from happening here and to make sure if it does, first responders are ready with the information they need.

In Chicago, Mayor Emanuel also responded to the new rules. He says he spoke with other mayors across the Midwest and across the country and that they too will be pushing for stronger actions including accelerating the phase outs of unsafe tank cars, strengthening safety inspections and creating clearer and timely communication between the railroads and first responders.

The rail industry warns that the new rules will result in slow moving trains and back up the entire rail system.

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