Pennsylvania oil train derailment danger assessed

Two rail companies in particular — CSX and Norfolk Southern — carry the unusually volatile Bakken shale crude through our state to have it refined in Philadelphia or elsewhere on the East Coast. As you no doubt recall, a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in Canada two years ago, killing 47 people.

Wolf hired a railroad engineering and safety expert to come up with recommendations to make the state’s rail system safer. The 27 recommendations focus mainly on speed, frequent inspections, maintenance and emergency planning.

Among the suggestions in the report: the two railroad companies should voluntarily reduce speeds of their trains through Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to 35 mph. Federal government guidelines call for a 40 mph speed limit through major urban areas, but Wolf’s expert wants the speed dropped here a bit more.

Obviously, the risks of a railroad accident diminish with lowered speed. At higher speeds, the possibility that a train will derail and oil tanks rupture and explode increases. Two months ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that oil companies had quietly agreed to contribute to a $345 million fund to compensate victims of the derailment.

At least one oil company contributed to the fund to avoid “the time and expense associated with protracted litigation,” a spokesperson told the Journal. The statement is testimony to the kind of results experienced personal injury and wrongful death attorneys can deliver for victims and affected families in these kinds of tragedies.