Crude by rail raises concerns

Southeast Texas is faced with the dilemma of how to address safety in the rapidly growing crude-by-rail business, after a series of fiery train crashes have occurred in the last year and a half.

The US has seen more than a dozen derailments of trains carrying crude oil, six of which led to major fires and one in Canada, which caused the death of 47 people.

Those tragedies have gotten attention from lawmakers in D.C. who recently proposed new safety rules for trains carrying crude oil, that would directly affect rails right here in Southeast Texas.

Some of the changes would include limiting train speed to 40 mph through "High Threat Zones" with populations greater than 100,000.

Other regulations include new tank- car braking systems, more testing for volatile gases and liquids and a two year phase-out of older tank cars.

Hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil is shipped through Southeast Texas regularly, but despite the apparent dangers, it seems it's just another part of life for residents in cities like Nederland.

Nederland Fire Chief G.W. Collins said the city isn't completely aware of when or what is being hauled through town.

"There's so much stuff transported through the area we would have to get a rail transcript of what they're carrying on each rail car that goes through and it's something we don't have," Collins said.

Southeast Texas has seen some derailments over the years but according to officials they're minor compared to the recent tragedies across the nation. Chief Collins said he credits the area's familiarity with the industry and the location on railroad routes.

"We train with industry and other municipalities we're prepared to deal with this," Collins said. "We aren't a pass through destination we are the destination for the product."

According to emergency management coordinator Greg Fountain, if an emergency were to happen in Jefferson County we're more than prepared.

"We work strongly with industry to make sure that should we have an incident that we're prepared for it," Fountain said. "We've got two of the best hazmat teams in the state with Beaumont and Port Arthur."


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