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Jim Lewis
Jim Lewis
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New Oil Terminals Create Safety Concern for Union Pacific Railroad Track

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assets-2012_article_2164154_13C508F8000005DC_863_636x395_129269871Railroads cross many parts of our country and haul important goods.  But what happens when these railroad tracks are already used to capacity and yet the railroad companies want to put even more trains on the tracks carrying hazardous materials?  The result could be deadly.   This is what is happening in California’s Kern County.  In the East-west rail corridor called the Tehachapi Pass.  The route is owned by Union Pacific Railroad, which shares the tracks with BNSF and is already nearing capacity as plans are being made for the new oil terminals.  This new thirst for oil would significantly increase freight traffic on the line.

New safety measures targeting oil shipments by train have been proposed in the aftermath of a tragic tank car derailment in early July in Canada but yet to be put into place.  These changes include hardware adjustments such as better puncture resistance on rail cars carrying petroleum and other hazardous materials.  In addition to emergency orders that focus on ensuring trains are not left unattended in certain circumstances, and would require train operators to improve communication with dispatchers on, for example, how many hand brakes have been applied when rail cars are parked.  Just recently a tank car accident occurred in rural Alabama when several cars in a 90-car train derailed and exploded, spilling their crude oil cargo into wetlands and creating a huge fire.  

Putting 40 new trains on the rails would increase profits for railroad corporations and it is apparent that saving money is paramount for railroads even though corporations are reaping all-time record quarterly and annual profits. I doubt the new safety measures will be put into use any time soon as railroad corporations have already pushed out the federal regulation requiring U.S. railroads to install life-saving technology on trains called Positive Train Control.  How important is this technology?  It helps cut out the human error portion of railroad safety that is responsible for about 40 percent of train accidents.  The PTC safety system uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train position and speed and stop them from colliding, derailing because of excessive speed, entering track where maintenance is being done or going the wrong way because of a switching mistake.

{Click here for more related positive train control information}

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