North America was recently rocked by reports of one of the most devastating railway accidents in decades. The crash occurred in a quiet town called Lac-Mégantic in the Estrie region of Quebec, Canada. Just 22 miles from the U.S. border, the town has traditionally served as one of Quebec’s railroad and logging centers. The town’s sleepy veneer was shattered when an unattended, parked 73-car freight train transporting crude oil came loose, causing multiple explosions. The accident claimed the lives of close to 50 people and destroyed more than 30 buildings.
According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), crude oil shipments in North America are skyrocketing, jumping from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to more than 200,000 in 2012. With the increase in carloads come heightened safety concerns, which are stoked by accidents such as the Lac-Mégantic crash. North Dakota crude makes up a significant percentage of shipments, which are often routed through Minnesota and other Midwestern states on the way to various final destinations. Other shipments traversing Minnesota consist of Canadian oil, 30,000 gallons of which seeped out of split rail cars outside of Alexandria, Minnesota in March.
Since the Twin Cities serve as a waypoint for Canadian Pacific and BNSF crude oil trains, emergency officials in Minnesota are alarmed by the lack of daily reports on hazardous materials on rail cars traveling through the state. While hazardous materials responders are now receiving specific training on crude oil disasters, officials hope that safety measures will be taken to avoid the occurrence of disasters in the first place. Only time will tell whether current safety measures are sufficient to prevent accidents.
Those injured in railway accidents may require the assistance of a qualified attorney with specific knowledge regarding railroad injury law.