The safety of rail cars has been called into question recently, and a new investigation from NBC News indicates that regulators may have known about potential problems long before a series of crashes led to calls for improvements.
This issue has grown in importance in recent years as oil companies seek to transport vast amounts of crude oil from North Dakota to assorted parts of North America. Because there isn’t a pipeline currently available that can transport it, companies have turned to trains.
But transport by rail has proved to be quite problematic. As early as October 2011, Federal Railroad Administration inspectors were turning up safety issues associated with the cars being used to transport oil. They discovered that there simply were not enough appropriate rail cars available. That, however, has not deterred enthusiasm for the transportation method.
Instead, what’s happening is that oil may be shipped in a way that leaves the door open for a litany of risks. The oil itself may be classified in a manner that downplays its flammability level, cars not suited for the task may be used to carry out transport, and in a bid to maximize the operation, cars may carry more oil than is suitable.
All of these problems have the potential to lead to tragedy, and indeed, this past July, a train crash in Canada claimed the lives of 47 people. This despite the aforementioned inspectors knowing about the state of the industry years prior.