The recent derailment on Katy Road has left many Houston residents with lingering doubts about the safety of railroad transportation within the city. The accident occurred at approximately 8:30 a.m. on June 11, 2015, and resulted in two train cars falling from an overhead rail line directly onto Katy Road and blocking traffic for more than 24 hours. Railway crews were hard at work repairing the line and replacing damaged portions of track well into the next day. While the damage to public property was relatively limited, the accident highlights the need for added oversight of the rail industry and the important role of train accident lawyers in holding railroad companies responsible for negligence and failure to maintain equipment and to adhere to current safety regulations. A Lucky Escape Although the commuters affected by this Houston railroad derailment might not count themselves lucky, the potential for damage could have been exponentially worse if the train involved had been hauling oil through Houston. Figures released in February 2015 by the Texas Department of Public Safety indicate that rail lines running through Harris County carry between two million and six million gallons of Bakken crude oil on a weekly basis. Aging oil cars, deteriorating track and failure to institute recommended safety features and protocols have led to several serious oil train accidents and spills over the past few years:
- Aliceville, Alabama, was the scene of a derailment on November 8, 2013, that resulted in the spill of a significant percentage of the 2.7 million gallons of crude oil on board the 90-car train and the contamination of wetlands in the area.
- On December 30, 2013, two trains collided in Casselton, North Dakota. The resulting explosions necessitated the evacuation of more than half of the residents in the area. An estimated 400,000 gallons of oil spilled as a result of the accident.
- A runaway oil train derailed in the heart of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec, Canada, on July 6, 2013. The resulting explosion and fire took the life of 47 people and destroyed nearly half of the buildings in the downtown area of this small town.
These accidents represent the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential environmental damage and loss of life due to the negligence of train companies in enforcing safety regulations, upgrading equipment and installing train control systems to protect the public against the devastating effects of oil train derailments and collisions. Federal Recommendations Still on Table On April 6, 2015, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a new set of railroad safety recommendations intended to boost the safety of oil trains on American rail lines:
- The NTSB called for the replacement of current outdated and unsafe DOT-111 and CPC-1232 oil cars with new equipment that provides improved protection from impacts and extreme temperatures. Existing cars can be retrofitted with thermal protection systems designed to provide similar protections.
- Pressure relief systems should be installed on oil cars to reduce the risk of ruptures and spills in the event of a collision or derailment.
- An aggressive timeline for the implementation of these upgrades should be put in place to ensure that rail companies begin the process immediately.
- Public reporting of progress toward 100 percent compliance with these recommendations is also required under the NTSB recommendations.
By implementing these recommendations, railroad companies can make a positive difference in public safety and can reduce the risk of spills and explosions when transporting crude oil from the Bakken region through the U.S. Unfortunately, many railroads have expressed reluctance to adopt these safety measures and have delayed implementation of previous recommendations due to the financial resources required to protect public safety. The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) offers protections and avenues to compensation for railway workers injured on the job. FELA attorneys can provide the support needed to navigate the legal environment and ensure a fair settlement for workers and their families. Members of the public can also seek compensation by retaining the services of a qualified railroad injury attorney. By holding railroad companies financially responsible for negligence and failure to implement safety measures in a timely fashion, accident victims can make a positive difference in motivating change in the rail transportation industry.