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Recent news reports have been dotted with train disasters. The horrifying nature of these accidents – especially the high causality rates – raise doubts regarding the sufficiency of current industry regulations. Reform proponents maintain that accidents such as the deadly Quebec oil tanker crash could have been prevented through stricter laws and more government oversight. Railroad companies, on the other hand, urge the public not to jump to conclusions based on what they see as rare anomalies in the industry’s otherwise sound safety record.

Industry experts call for reform

A leading voice in the call for stricter train regulations is Jason Bordoff, former Senior Director for Energy and Climate Change at the National Security Council. Bordoff cited the huge leap in oil transport volume initiated by massive increases in U.S. extraction as the primary reason that regulators need to review railroad oil transport rules. Specifically, Bordoff cited the speed and suddenness with which the latest oil rush has arrived, noting that any time the status quo changes this quickly, regulators must assess whether current regulations are adequate.

Railroad labor unions represent another major voice in the call for new rules and regulations. Unions are particularly interested in persuading regulators to institute a ban on one-person train crews, such as the one involved in the Quebec disaster. Union representatives maintain that the presence of a second crew member will improve procedures for parking trains and will serve as a check on tired workers who may unintentionally fail to comply with all safety measures.

Railroad officials recommend a wait-and-see approach

Eyeing the prospect of increased costs and red tape, railroad officials characterize calls for reform as premature. Association of American Railroads spokesperson Holly Arthur recommends delaying any changes in regulations until conclusive findings from train crash investigations can be generated and analyzed. Reform proponents and opponents agree, however, that transporting crude oil by rail is no less safe than sending oil by pipeline.

Debate about safety regulation reform notwithstanding, workers continue to be injured in their railroad jobs, as do innocent bystanders affected in rail disasters. When railroad accidents cause injuries, the advice of a legal advocate with an understanding of the railroad industry is absolutely critical.

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