On March 10th, in Palo Alto County thousands of gallons of biofuel found its way to a nearby creek as spheres of flames also began to engulf the area. The area was in this condition because a mile-long train, consisting of 20 rail cars that was transporting ethanol derailed from their intended track. As a result of the derailment no one was injured, but now many are calling into question the older rail cars currently being used as well as the increased length of the trains, especially one carrying a dangerous fuel such as ethanol.
In 2013, a comparable accident took place in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada. Unfortunately, this Canadian area was heavily populated in comparison to the Palo Alto County area of the March 10th derailment. As a result of the 2013 crash, 47 individuals lost their lives when a train carry crude oil exploded in the heavily populated Quebec area.
The most recent March 10th derailment reminds the public of just how dangerous these mile-long freight trains carrying explosive matter, such as ethanol, can be. The costs of shipping are able to be cut down drastically through the use of these elongated “rolling pipelines” freight trains. Although, the issue is that the length of the trains as well as the type of rail cars being used may actually be more harmful when a crash or derailment takes place. This is in large part because these rail cars do not have added safety measurements of the newer rail cars because they are outdated.
The United States Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration has stated that the ethanol industry has until 2023 to use their current rail cars, but starting in 2023 rail cars with thicker shells and other added safety features will be required. Before the most recent March 10th derailment there was a mindset that relying of the current set up, of using miles of older rail cars in mile long formation, did not pose immediate safety issues and could be used until 2023. Although this mindset is now being questioned due to the devastation the current rail cars could create and have created as a result of crashes and derailments.
Robert Sumealt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, has been quick to explain that this change cannot come from the National Transportation Safety Board, but rather must be done by Congress.