empty railroad train tracksRail transportation in the US has increased with the increase in shipments of crude oil. The Federal Railroad Administration inspects 161K miles of track and publishes alerts when there may be a violation of rail transportation regulations. Nonobservance of these regulations may cause accidents with tragic results. The Associated Press reports that federal inspectors discovered nearly 24,000 defects on rail routes used to transport crude oil, including “worn rails and other equipment,” broken bolts, and the failure to quickly fix problems uncovered in the inspections.

The Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a safety alert in 2014 notifying the general public, emergency responders and shippers and carriers that recent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil. “Based upon preliminary inspections conducted after recent rail derailments in North Dakota, Alabama and Lac-Megantic, Quebec involving Bakken crude oil, PHMSA is reinforcing the requirement to properly test, characterize, classify, and where appropriate sufficiently degasify hazardous materials prior to and during transportation.”

Derailments have triggered massive fires or oil spills in Oregon, Virginia, Montana. Recent derailments include:

April 2017, Money, MS. A train collision causes 10-12 cars to derail. Crude oil tank cars caught fire.

June 2016, Mosier, OR. A Union Pacific train carrying crude oil derails in the Columbia River Gorge, spilling 42,000 gallons of Bakken crude, and sparking a large fire. (www.riverkeeper.org)

Railroad accidents experts have extensive training in analyzing the causes of rail crashes. They analyze a railroad’s records concerning inspections, testing, maintenance, and employee training and hours of service. These experts inspect and report on data found in the locomotive event recorder (black box). Railroad accidents expert witnesses are experienced in reporting on train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive train speed, and other root causes of railway accidents.