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Editorial: Railway oil trains raising concerns

The railroad traffic out of the North Dakota oil fields is growing in all directions and in frequencys.

The estimated carloads of oil shipped by railroad are expected to top 400,000 this year, according to press reports. In 2009, only about 11,000 carloads of oil were shipped by rail.

The mile-long procession of black tank cars rumbling through the railroad network, including through west central Minnesota, is now a common sight.

The railroad industry has worked to maintain the safety of its oil shipments. The industry claims that 99.997 percent of rail shipments of hazardous materials reach the designated destination safely.

The oil resources exports have been good for North Dakota and the rail shipment demand is benefiting the railroad industry.

BNSF Railway is a dominant rail carrier for North Dakota’s Bakken crude oil exports. The railroad has created and is maintaining its own hazardous materials emergency crews. Other railroads are doing the same and offering appropriate training for local firefighters.

We commend the railroad for their proactive efforts preparing their staff and local communities emergency personnel for such accidents.

However, officials in towns and cities in the United States and Canada are worried about derailments, spills or explosions in their towns and their preparedness to handle such an accident scene.

The growth in oil shipments via railroads has increased the opportunity for accidents along these rail lines.

One shipment of crude oil from the Bakken oil patch in North Dakota in July crashed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, near the Maine border. That accident and resulting fire storm killed 47 people.

Another accident in November in rural Alabama caused several reinforced rail cars to explode.

Each accident raises concerns among the communities all along the railroad lines carrying the crude oil. All should be reviewing and preparing appropriate emergency plans to address the growing concern.