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Vol. 78/No. 19      May 19, 2014

Oil, rail bosses’ profit drive causes
yet another fiery train explosion
(front page)
The dangers posed for working people from the capitalists’ profit-driven oil boom was brought home once again April 30, this time in Lynchburg, Virginia, when a train carrying highly flammable crude oil derailed and exploded near the center of the town of 78,000. Thirteen cars derailed, several tipped and plunged into the James River, leaking their contents and igniting a fire with 100-foot-high flames.

By chance no one was killed. If the cars had tipped toward the city instead of the river, the devastation could have been much worse, Lynchburg City Manager Kimball Payne told the Wall Street Journal.

The explosion is the latest in growing numbers of such incidents over the past year. As transport of crude oil by rail has skyrocketed, rail bosses have resisted upgrading outdated tank cars or any other safety measures that might cut into profits. In fact, the bosses of industry and commuter rail have been “cutting costs” by chipping away at safety over decades.

The 105-car train, run by CSX Corp., originated in North Dakota’s Bakken shale region and was headed to Yorktown, Virginia, for shipment to refineries on the East Coast.

Hundreds were evacuated from downtown Lynchburg. Workers at the Griffin Pipe Foundry could not leave the factory until a portion of the derailed train was removed. The derailment occurred near a popular children’s museum, across a parking lot from the tracks.

Explosive growth in crude oil shipment by rail

According to the Association of American Railroads, carloads of crude oil traveling by rail rose from 9,500 in 2008 to 233,000 in 2012 to more than 400,000 last year. From 1975 to 2012, federal records show railroad spills totaled 800,000 gallons of crude oil. In 2013 alone it was more than 1.15 million gallons, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

About two-thirds of the oil produced by new fracking technology in the Bakken shale oil fields is shipped by rail. Explosions from Bakken fields shipments over the past year included a train that derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, last July killing 47 people and destroying much of the town; uncontrolled firebombs from a derailment near Aliceville, Alabama, in November; and a fiery crash near Casselton, North Dakota.

Over the past few decades, the railway bosses’ drive for profits has led to cuts in crew sizes and skimping on maintenance of aging tracks, switches and other equipment. Through concessions imposed on the unions in the 1980s and ’90s, caboose cars at the rear of the train where conductors could watch the train from behind were eliminated. Most trains today — some now extended to a mile long — are being run with a crew of just two, working longer hours with combined responsibilities and shorter breaks.

Passenger train derailments have also increased over the past year, including one in the Bronx, New York, Dec. 1 that killed four passengers and injured more than 70 people.

The vast majority of the 92,000 oil tanker cars that carry flammable liquids are older DOT-111 models, prone to puncture and corrosion. Government authorities have allowed rail bosses to put off compliance with needed upgrades and replacements to these cars. In 2011, railroads and car owners agreed “to beef up new cars with better protections and thicker steel,” reported the New York Times. “But they resisted improving safety features on the existing fleet because of cost.”

Rail bosses keep routes, car contents secret

The government allows rail bosses to keep the contents of cars and routes secret. “Local and state officials complain that they receive very little information about when hazardous materials are shipped through their communities or how railroads pick their routes,” reported the Times.

At the same time, more workers are being killed on the job as part of the explosion in natural gas production, reports the Department of Labor. In West Virginia 13 workers died between 2008 and 2012, more than double the previous five-year period. Other states that are home to the profit-driven “energy boom,” like Texas, North Dakota and Pennsylvania have also seen a rise in worker fatalities, the Charleston Gazette reported May 6.
Related articles:
Illinois socialist candidate: Close down ‘petcoke’ site
Chicago rally protests ‘petcoke’ dust near neighborhood
Statement by Eleanor García, Socialist Workers candidate for California governor
Fight for workers control on the job!
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