Let’s chat about the train derailment this past week in Casselton, North Dakota. The derailment that Governor Dalrymple referred to as a “bad coincidence.” The derailment that became a hazardous material event and necessitated an evacuation of the area. The derailment, that by the grace of God, happened in a place where the explosions did not injure or kill folks.
Derailments are one of the concerns I have been voicing for years in my classes and in community presentations. Ever since the derailment in Minot in January 2002 I have been pondering the extent to which a derailment in the wrong place could cause a large scale event that kills or injures thousands and destroys nearby property and the environment. In my mind, this is one of the most salient threats of our time – not just here in North Dakota, but everywhere where there is rail (which is essentially everywhere). There are so many challenges in dealing with such an incident and so many ways things can go wrong that it makes planning, training, and exercising for these types of incidents a priority.
The scariest part of such an incident is the potential for injury and loss of life and the general lack of citizen knowledge regarding what to do in such an incident. Proper shelter procedures during such an incident can require more than merely staying inside. If you do not know how to keep yourself and your family safe in such an event, please visit the Fargo Fire Department’s page and watch the short shelter-in-place video (click here).
Trains carry many toxic chemicals and we know from experience that they can derail and cause spills, fires, and explosions. In addition to the many chemicals that travel through North Dakota daily, we also now have large volumes of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region that is more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil. The types of fire and explosions we saw in Casselton are to be expected in future incidents with this type of crude and the currently used rail cars (which are outdated and viewed by many to be inadequate for transporting Bakken oil).
Many of us live or work near these railways. This is not someone else’s issue – this is our issue. The Casselton area was very lucky this time around, but there is no telling what damage the next incident may cause. It was only this past July that 47 people were killed in Quebec, Canada when a like derailment occurred within a town. Since then there have been three other derailments involving crude oil in October (Alberta, Canada), November (Alabama), and December (North Dakota). It is time to start asking questions of our local and state officials – what are they doing to ensure safer transport of not only Bakken oil but all hazardous materials that travel via rail through our state? Now is the time to push for better equipped rail cars, enhanced safety procedures, and more comprehensive planning – don’t wait for the next derailment.
Day one thousand two hundred and eighty-one of the new forty – obla di obla da