Concerns mount over dangers of transporting oil by rail

ALBANY, N.Y. - The Transportation Department proposed new rules Thursday to make rail tankers less likely to leak and explode after a derailment.

On Wednesday, 13 cars carrying crude oil exploded in Lynchburg, Va. It turns out the amount of crude moving by rail across the country is growing rapidly - but safety regulations are not.

Every day, mile-long trains from the Bakken oilfields of North Dakota pass through Albany. Some carry 85,000 barrels of crude.

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The Transportation Department proposed new rules Thursday to make rail tankers less likely to leak and explode after a derailment.
CBS News
The amount of Bakken oil transported by rail has increased 20-fold since 2008. But federal authorities say the chemical properties of Bakken crude make it more flammable than oil from other areas.

"What keeps me up at night is that I'll get a phone call, or that I'll hear a boom," said Councilwooman Vivian Korenegay, who represents an Albany neighborhood near the rail tracks.

"I worry about the safety of the people living here," she said. "If something happens, you know, they're all gone. These homes are no longer if something catastrophic is to happen here."

A train carrying Bakken crude derailed in North Dakota in December. An accident occurred in Alabama just weeks earlier. But it was an explosion that killed 47 people in Canada that terrified many who live in towns on the oil routes.

Charlene Benton lives just 50 yards from the tracks in Albany. What would she do if something happened?

"What would I do? The only thing I could do is pray," she said.

Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told CBS News the rush of Bakken on the rails has forced his agency to act.

"What you have is a proliferation of a new-growth energy product in this country without a proliferation of inspectors, without a proliferation, in many cases, of the regime that needs to go along with making sure that everything is safe," he said.

Railroads have already agreed to reduced speeds for oil trains and to improve braking systems.

But Vivian Kornegay wants oil trains rerouted around heavily populated areas.

"There will be a next time. With the amount of oil moving throughout this country, it's bound to be a next time. And I don't want that next time down here where my residents live," she said.

The White House will review the safety proposals. Approval can take months.


  • Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.

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