PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – You may have seen the dramatic videos of tanker trains, carrying volatile Bakken crude from out west, exploding into dramatic and lethal fireballs.
Would it make you nervous to learn that a half dozen trains carrying the very same crude pass through the City of Pittsburgh and other parts of the region every day?
“In the past few years, we’ve seen 10 of these trains explode, killing 47 people. So, yeah, when I see one of these trains go by I get nervous,” said Randy Sargent, a Carnegie Mellon University researcher.
The trains carry an estimated 8 million gallons of Bakken crude, or one-fourth of the nation’s production, pass daily right by the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, through the heart of Downtown and Oakland.
That’s where Sargent is sounding an alarm.
“Right now, we’re standing in the middle of CMU and Pitt and the museums. It’s not a good place to have a big explosion,” he said.
The question is, are we ready?
“We’re as prepared as we can be. It continues to be a work in progress,” said Michael Huss, of the Pittsburgh Public Safety Department.
The city and surrounding communities are trying to be prepared for the unthinkable – a train derailment and explosion in a populated area.
In addition to disaster drills, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire has three foam cannons, which are capable of spraying fire retardant the length of a football field.
“It’s very effective. The stuff works very, very [well],” said a Pittsburgh Fire Bureau captain. “We train on it all the time.”
The impact of an explosion will likely be immediate before first responders arrive on the scene. Your own ability to flee might be the difference between life and death.
“The initial point of this is to use your feet and get away from the incident,” Huss said. “People have successfully, barely, escaped some of these incidents.”
For its part, Norfolk Southern says accidents are exceedingly rare. A spokesman said the crude reaches its destination without incident 99.9 percent of time.
Still, he says the railroad is working to help train and outfit first responders here.
In a statement they say: “We have more than a 1,000 employees in the Pittsburgh region. So, safety isn’t just a business incentive, it’s personal for us. We want to take every step to ensure against accidents, and if one should occur, we’re going to be there, standing shoulder to shoulder with the first responders.”
You might think the chances are remote. However, only weeks ago one tanker train decoupled in Panther Hallow. It sent a tanker car down an incline before coming to rest.
Eight months ago, 13 cars from another train derailed in Hazelwood, but the tanker cars did not.
KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “And what’s your feeling? It’s just a matter of time?
Sargent: “In three years, we’ve had 10 explosions, so you tell me.