ST. LOUIS (KPLR) - A federal report from the Department of Transportation backs up the concerns St. Louis City’s Fire Chief has for trains hauling as many as 100 tanker cars full of crude oil from Montana and North Dakota through the city.
Chief Dennis Jenkerson said Wednesday there is an immediate need for the industry to improve safety and strengthen the tanker cars that haul the crude from the Bakken Fields. The oil that comes from oil shale often includes volatile gases like methane and propane.
A derailment, like the West Virginia one in mid-February, caused bomb-like explosions. No one was killed. Firefighters succeeded in evacuating nearby residents, but some buildings were destroyed. If it had happened in a highly populated area like St. Louis, DOT and local fire officials believe there would have been several hundred fatalities.
“It’s scary,” said Chief Jenkerson. The Chief has called on local railroads to stop running crude oil trains through St. Louis. He is concerned about his department’s ability to fight such fires. Jenkerson would like the railroads to station extra equipment and foam for fuel fires in the city.
Union Pacific Railroad spokesperson Mark Davis said the railroad had invested $31 billion dollars in infrastructure improvements over the past decade. The firm is targeting derailment prevention. “Our hazardous materials shipments reach their destination 99.997 percent of the time. It’s that .003 that we’re always working on to continue to reduce so there’s zero incidents.
Davis said most of the Union Pacific crude oil activity takes place on tracks in Illinois along the Mississippi River. Chief Jenkerson said he thinks the Missouri tracks now carry oil tanker cars that have been emptied at southern refineries and may still hold as much as 3 thousand gallons of crude oil on their trip north to oil fields.
He wants to see the industry upgrade its oil tanker cars, shorten the trains that run through highly populated areas and notify first responders when trains are coming through.