Ohio senator working to keep rail lines safe

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV and the Associated Press) – Inspectors have found almost 24,000 safety defects along U.S. railroads that ship crude oil over the last two years.

According to a report by the Associated Press, a 2015 train derailment in Montana, spilling 27,000 gallons of crude oil, was blamed on defective or missing fasteners used to hold the tracks in place.

The previous year, cracks in a track that went unrepaired caused a train hauling oil to come off the rails and explode along the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia. Broken bolts were cited in another oil train derailment and fire last year in Mosier, Oregon.

Data obtained by The Associated Press shows that tens of thousands of similar safety defects were found when government inspectors checked the rail lines used to haul volatile crude oil across the country. The defects included rails that were worn, bolts that were broken or loose or missing, and steel bars that had cracks.

Such flaws are not uncommon across the nation’s 140,000-mile freight rail network. But these nearly 24,000 imperfections drew heightened attention because of a surge in recent years of domestic energy production that has increased rail shipments of oil and the number of major derailments.

The inspectors also noted failures by railroads to quickly fix problems identified through inspections.

Millions of gallons of gas pass through Northeast Ohio weekly, which is why Senator Sherrod Brown has introduced legislation in the past to make rail cars safer.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown has introduced a law in the past to make rail oil cars safer.

“These cars, the old cars that are corroding need replaced. We’ve tried to do some legislation to encourage and entice some tax incentives even, if you will, to get those cars replaced,” Brown said.

A Federal Railroad Administration spokesman says the inspections have made routes safer and railway officials more responsive.

Since 2006, the United States and Canada have seen at least 27 oil train accidents involving a fire, derailment or significant fuel spill. Besides the targeted inspection program, U.S. and Canadian officials have responded with more stringent construction standards for tens of thousands of tank cars that haul oil and other flammable liquids.

The amount of oil moving by rail peaked in 2014 then dropped after crude prices collapsed. Major railroads reported moving more than 43,000 carloads of crude in the fourth quarter of 2016, down almost 50 percent from a year earlier, according to the railroad association.