A week after a CSX train hauling crude oil derailed and exploded 30 miles southeast of Charleston, W.Va., on Feb. 16, its mangled, charred tank cars were still being hauled from the crash site. Of the 27 cars that derailed, 19 had been engulfed in flames. The wreckage burned for almost three days. “It’s amazing no one was killed,” says John Whitt, whose home is one of a handful clustered near the crash site, along the banks of the Kanawha River. Some were within 30 yards of the site. One home was destroyed.
Exploding oil trains—this was only the latest in a series—have emerged as a dangerous side effect of the U.S. energy boom. A lack of pipelines connecting new fields in North Dakota and Texas to refineries and shipping terminals has led to an almost 5,000 percent increase in the amount of oil moved by trains since 2009. Much of it is carried in tank cars designed a half-century ago that regulators have long deemed inadequate for hauling the highly flammable types of crude coming out of North Dakota.
The West Virginia accident came less than a month after the U.S. Department of Transportation sent a proposal for new safety standards to the White House for approval. The rules were supposed to have been submitted at the end of last year but were delayed amid...
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