Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Train Derailment and Knee-Jerk Responses

In spite of the cries over extended unemployment benefits being ended in Clark County, indicating the job situation might not be near as rosy as we are led to believe, there are those who would still hype the recent train derailment in North Dakota to use against job creation at the Port.

Let there be no mistake, I do not make light of the accident and in spite of the dangers such a derailment and fire posed for the small town of Casselton, seeing the towns people evacuated and subsequently returning in a short period, the lack of injury is noticeable.

As we saw in Canada, it could have been much worse.

But, it also must be put in perspective as those actively opposed to an oil terminal at our Port and the jobs such an endeavor will bring latched onto the accident immediately for their purposes, “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Much like major airline crashes, such derailments as seen recently make headlines for biased media since they are relatively infrequent. An article from the Grand Forks Herald states, “While derailments aren’t rare, releases of hazardous materials from derailed train cars happen infrequently in North Dakota, statistics show.”

They also cite, “From January 2000 to October 2013, the Federal Railroad Administration recorded 71 derailments involving hazardous materials in North Dakota” and add, “Only three of the 71 derailments involved releases of hazardous materials…”

By contrast, Amtrak passenger train derailments, like was seen in Florida in 2002 and in Louisiana in 1993 make big news because of the loss of life, but I don’t recall activists suggesting or protesting against Amtrak.

But, freight trains hauling oil that produces fire, large fireballs and a lot of dense smoke, are perfect visuals for activists to hype and use to further their anti-oil agenda, ignoring all human need for jobs.

While the focus and blame is placed on the train and the load, the actual cause is normally ignored as is only about 10 cars out of over 100 cars actually burned.

We see some issuing their usual “this is a wake-up call” broadcast over the accident, left out is reports of the ‘why’ of the accident.

In this particular case, a video camera is reported to have been installed at the head of the oil train and it recorded “the crash as it slammed into a car of a derailed grain train.”

It is reported, “When the oil train arrived, the other train transporting grain and soy bean had already derailed, and one of its cars was lying in the oil train's path. The oil train slammed into it and burst into flames.”

Do we hear anybody opposing shipping grain by rail? No and here we see that this accident is a result of a train carrying grain derailing in the path of the train carrying oil.

Nowhere yet have I read the exact cause of the explosion and fire, but it is widely known that grain dust is highly volatile, many grain silos across the country experiencing fires and explosions throughout the years. I can’t help but wonder if a spark was created when the trains collided that set off the overturned grain car first and subsequently, the oil cars derailed after the impact.

OSHA warns: “Grain dust explosions are often severe, involving loss of life and substantial property damage. Over the last 35 years, there have been over 500 explosions in grain handling facilities across the United States, which have killed more than 180 people and injured more than 675.”

Storing and handling grain is also very dangerous and even though the Port of Vancouver already has a grain terminal and has for several years, we see no groups flocking before City Council or the County Commission demanding they end their operation due to the dangers involved.

No, but we do see the usual malcontents hyping the planned construction of an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver due to the perceived dangers of oil when the Lazy C copied and pasted the AP report.

In a facebook discussion, one such malcontent exclaimed, “There WILL be an incident here if this is built just a matter of when. Wake up” with another saying, “Tick, tick, tick. The countdown to another rail accident is already on.”

No one worries about the grain storage facilities at the port, though or the trains coming into or through town hauling grain with its explosive grain dust.

We all eat bread, so we need the grain. But, we all also drive cars, motorcycles or use many items derived from petroleum, so we need the oil as well and will continue needing it in the future since oil is responsible in many ways for the lifestyle we have come to enjoy in America.

As happens in other accidents, this one will be investigated and recommendations made to hopefully prevent a repeat. Tracks will be fortified if need be, maintenance of trains will be scrutinized and improvements made. After all, with all of the cries of “corporate greed,” it seems missed that such accidents hamper profits and cause losses.

I expect activists will return to City Council and the County Commission, blasting oil shipments coming through town, opposing the oil terminal and using this accident for “proof” of what will happen.

But not one will call for closing down the grain terminal even though it is equally as hazardous.

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