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Grayslake joins national effort to improve rail tank car safety

Horrific accidents such as one Quebec Canadthis summer where 72 oil tank cars derailed then exploded killed 47 people has

Horrific accidents such as the one in Quebec, Canada, this summer where 72 oil tank cars derailed then exploded and killed 47 people, has raised increasing concerns about rail safety across the country. | AP file

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Updated: February 10, 2014 2:50AM

The village of Grayslake has joined with the village of Barrington in a nationwide effort to urge tougher new safety standards for rail tank cars that carry hazardous liquids such as crude oil and ethanol.

Village trustees Tuesday night, Dec. 3, adopted a model resolution originally developed by Barrington and the Illinois TRAC Coalition in seeking new regulations to retrofit outdated DOT — 111 tank cars with new safety devices. Railroad tank cars are often used to carry flammable crude oil and ethanol through high-density residential communities.

“The impact of railroad traffic that crisscrosses our Village has a tremendous impact on our safety and community well-being,” Grayslake Mayor Rhett Taylor said in introducing the resolution to the Board.

Trustees, including Kevin Waldenstrom, quickly supported the measure. Waldenstrom, whose small business in downtown Grayslake is close to the railroad tracks, said that freight traffic has increased significantly, causing several recent blockages of emergency vehicles caused by stopped trains clogging key downtown road crossings.

The Village last month appealed to federal elected officials for new train schedules and adding a new bypass section of track in the Village since the State has no jurisdiction over the Canadian Pacific Railroad that uses the tracks.

Horrific accidents such as the one in Quebec, Canada, this summer where 72 oil tank cars derailed then exploded and killed 47 people, while another in rural Alabama last month burst into flames when several tank cars carrying crude oil derailed and burst into flames, has raised increasing concerns about rail safety across the country.

Domestic crude oil production is booming. It’s up 41 percent in the past seven years as a result of discovering new oil-producing shale fields in North Dakota, south Texas, Colorado and in other remote places that can’t access traditional oil pipelines so have turned to the rails.

Efforts to build more pipelines have been hamstrung by environmentalists, politics, and resistance from the refining industry.

As a result, oil field producers have turned mainly to rail deliveries to get their product to refineries. It’s not unusual for a train to transport more than 100 tank cars, each containing about 30,000 gallons of flammable crude oil, ethanol, or a hazardous chemical product.

As volumes increase, so does the potential for more serious accidents, rail experts say.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) recently joined the nationwide rail safety effort by calling for major improvements in tank car design.

They suggested to the federal Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the regulatory agency that oversees the safe transport of hazardous materials by railroads, the following:

• That tank car owners be required to install an outer steel jacket around both old and new DOT — 111 tank cars, add thermal protection, provide steel shields at both front and back of the tank cars, and install new pressure relief valves.

• AAR also recommended that the 78,000 outdated DOT — 111 tank cars either be upgraded or phased out.

“We believe its time for a thorough review of the U.S. tank car fleet that moves flammable liquids, particularly considering the increase in crude oil traffic. Our goal is to ensure that what we move, and how we move it, is done as safely as possible,” AAR President Edward Hamberger said in calling for new federal rail transport safety standards.

He also pointed out that tank cars are not owned by the railroads, but by oil producers, leasing firms, and finance companies, although railroads typically share blame for accidents.

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