PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A runaway tanker train crashes in Canada, killing 47 people.
Another in North Dakota explodes into a fireball.
And just last week, a derailment in Virginia sends flames 12 stories high.
A KD investigation finds that the same antiquated tanker cars are carrying the same highly combustible crude right through our area every day.
Could it happen here? And what – if anything – is being done to prevent it?
“Something’s gonna happen sooner or later,” says John Knepper of Carnegie. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Tanker trains hauling liquefied natural gas from Marcellus shale drilling move several times daily through towns like Carnegie.
And even more concerning are the tanker cars containing the very flammable petroleum from the oil fields of North Dakota. The so-called Bakken crude has a lower flash point than regular crude – and higher levels of methane, ethane and butane with combustion potential of a fireball crash.
It’s the very same crude that comes throughout our city, past the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
“I don’t — sometimes lose sleep over the fact that stuff coming right past the convention center, and through downtown and all the busway and through residential areas,” said city Emergency Management Coordinator Ray DeMichiei.
It’s DeMichiei’s job to prepare for the unthinkable – a derailment and explosion of this crude in city limits. His concerns are heightened by the fact that it’s being hauled in so-called DOT-111 tank cars, which have been criticized for being prone to puncture and not crash-resistant.
DeMichiei has joined a chorus of those calling for their replacement.
“First we want to prevent the derailment from happening and that’s track maintenance and a whole plethora of things,” he said. “And then, if in fact they do derail, we’d like to see the containers as robust as possible to be so they can withstand an assault without breaching.”
“I’m thinking is it chemicals or oil gonna catch fire?” asked Jesse Cisco of Vandergrift.
In February, a tanker train derailed in Vandergrift, but fortunately it wasn’t hauling Bakken crude. It was a thicker, less-flammable variety that was further neutralized by the cold and the snow.
Workers are still cutting the train up for scrap. But now the federal department of transportation is proposing a time schedule to replace these and other cars with new crash-resistant ones.
“There are 60,000 of these new cars on order,” said Westmoreland County Emergency Coordinator Dan Stevens. “Production is where the problem is. We can only produce 12,000 of these cars every year.”
Stevens says steps need to be taken to improve safety, but the public needs to be patient and realistic. Rail transportation of petrolatum and chemicals is here to stay.
“Do we want to add $2, $3, $4 a gallon for gas because we don’t want to have this crude oil moved from the Midwest to the East Coast for production?” asked Stevens.