Two weeks ago we wrote our third editorial dealing with trains carrying volatile crude oil through the San Joaquin Valley. We called upon the U.S. Department of Transportation to finally approve a long-delayed new tank-car design that includes ceramic insulation, front and back shields and increased metal thickness, making them more puncture-resistant.
The designs – which the tank-car industry says are the best available – have been delayed at the USDOT. Those who must buy the new tank cars – oil companies or third-party firms who lease them to oil companies – don’t want to be forced to buy heavier, more expensive cars.
If the USDOT is looking for a compromise, we suggest they visit Mount Carbon, W.Va. That’s where an oil train derailed last weekend; at least 14 tank cars exploded or burned. Residents miles away thought they had been awakened by a bomb. Though the area is sparsely populated, two small towns had to be evacuated. Another train, pulling 100 tankers, derailed in the Canadian wilderness and two more tank cars burned.
All the cars that caught fire were CPC-1232 cars, which were “state-of-the-art” in 2011. Take a look at the photos to see if they’re sufficient.
Refineries in the Bay Area and Bakersfield are receiving the same crude oil that fueled the Canadian and West Virginia explosions. The trains roll through our communities, in the middle of towns or close to neighborhoods.
In our Feb. 1 editorial (“Delays on safer rail cars unacceptable”), we called on Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, to use his considerable influence as chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials to spur the administration to approve new designs – now. Instead, he chastised a member of the rail-car industry for speaking to our editorial board.
In the week before the derailments, Denham authored a bill to allow passengers to bring dogs onto passenger trains. We don’t think for a second that he was prioritizing dogs over safety. That said, having passenger cars share the rails with safer tank cars will keep everyone – dogs and people – safer.
We like to think a pointed nudge from the chairman could do some good.