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In Illinois, Flames and Clouds of Smoke Signal Yet Another "Bomb Train" Disaster


In Illinois, Flames and Clouds of Smoke Signal Yet Another "Bomb Train" Disaster

Jon Queally, staff writer

In the latest fiery example of crude-by-rail disasters, a derailment on Thursday of a train carrying crude oil near the Mississippi River in Galena, Illinois (not far from the Iowa border) saw several cars burst into flames and sent thick black smoke billowing into the air.

According to Reuters:


Again, solutions are about kicking the addiction to fossil fuels, not the false solution of moving them by pipeline instead of train.


As one of the cartoonists recently pointed out, these “bomb trains” are naturally occurring phenomena that have been going on for millions of years and there is absolutely no scientific evidence that such disasters are the result of any human or corporate actions.


I wonder what are the statistics of these events in comparison on a per-mile basis for other rail freight? Is there a physics-based causality? Perhaps a higher center of gravity involved with tanker cars? If these events are anomalous to other rail traffic statistics and lack sound physics-based explanations, I want McGruff the Crime Dog off his leash.


A study done that showed that in order to increase “productivity and efficiency” trains get longer and longer. As example in the 1990s the average freight train was 1.5 KM long here in Canada and weighing to 7000 tons. Today they are now 3.5 KM and weigh 18000 tons. They can reach as long as 4.5 km with regularity.

This can be done with less staff and vastly increases profits. When trains reach that length much greater forces are unleashed that would lead it to jumping the tracks. Think of 100s of cars going around curves and bends. They do not move at uniform speed as each connected car has a certain amount of “play” where it connected to the one ahead and the one behind. This creates an ever longer and more powerful chain reaction down the trains entire length I would think which in turn will increase the likelihood of cars jumping the tracks.


An increased number of shorter trains would create more jobs too to run all those extra trains. Sounds like conservatives would be hot on that plan! What conservative would want to be anti-jobs?


If you think you are going to see an improvement in safety if it may cause a small loss of profit, you are going to wake up oily in the morning.


Cue the “pipelines are safer” chorus.

Neither choice is even remotely safe given the lax standards and even more lax inspections/enforcement.

When CEO’s start doing serious jail time for such “accidents”, things will change. Don’t hold your breath, the laws were written by the CEOs and their lackey lawyers/politicians.


Brilliant! It’s Voltaire or Swift reincarnated…


Satirical wit to most progressives, but unfortunately not to the 1%!


Think about it for a moment. Increasing derailments, fires, spills.

  • One solution offered was safer tank cars. They have been designed and produced. The oil companies screamed profit loss, new tankers too expensive, they already have plenty of the old unsafe tankers.
  • The government said, “Okay, then just replace worn out old tankers with the new type. In thirty or forty years, the new tankers will be in place.”
  • Meanwhile, the tracks and track beds are deteriorating at a great rate due to the extra wear and tear from the increased runs of longer and heavier trains.
  • The damned things come through Stanwood and then right through the heart of Mt. Vernon to the north of us. Huge coal trains going north, huge oil trains going south, day and night! Once or twice a day, you will see a regular freight, usually with a half dozen or a dozen tankers in it.
  • I’m sure that this will bring on a cry for pipelines, which have a nasty habit of bursting also. The Koch suckers, er, brothers probably have a lock on the pipeline companies as well.
  • The only solution to the problem is to leave the coal and oil in the ground and work on developing eco-friendly energy and learning conservation habits.
  • It’s tough, but it can work.


It’s more likely that you’ll wake up crispy.



Yeah, I’ve often noticed the complex mechanics of this watching very long coal trains along the New River in Virginia/West Virginia. Specifically, when a long train starts or stops, no matter how gently, you get a violent bang-bang-bang-bang propagating down the train as the slack in couplings gets taken up.

The other problem is curves on long grades, where a large lateral thrust unavoidably occurs to much loud screeching of wheel-flange-on rail. This generates so much heat that fires get started if there is combustible material on the track bed. Anyone traveling on Hwy 22 down the Allegheny grade into Altoona, Pennsylvania notices a big denuded slope (couple hundred acres) with only sapling-sized trees and brush extending above a long curve around a point on the CSX main line that follows the other side of the hollow. I learned that this is due to forest fires started by the hot wheels and rails as a long freight trains ascends this grade. I assume they just keep this slope cut now to prevent more fires. The railroads minimize this effect with track-oiler devices which squirt a thick oil/runny grease onto the tracks as a train passes. This this creates a pollution problem which the railroads seem to have immunity from addressing. I knew someone who lived near such a Norfolk-Southern railroad grade near Blacksburg, Virginia who had his well water permanently ruined due to seepage of the track-oil into the groundwater. But he can’t “prove” it, so he gets no relief.


You almost made me injure myself.


Judging only from the photo above it looks like the derailment happened at a switch-out.


as are the officially recognized “terrorists”


There is much wrong with the US rail system. The entire world is using concrete sleepers (ties). But here wood remains rotting away, and wood is not strong enough for existing rail traffic. And then those tankers—huge steel cylinders with welded on wheels sets. And then the light ends added to the oil to make it possible to pump the stuff out of the cars, for without it the goo would gel and would only come out when heated. (The new cars do have tank heaters installed, but can you imagine how long it would take to heat one car, and then to heat 120 cars, one train?) So, what is wrong? Countries with their head screwed on correctly have the publicly owned tracks, and publicly maintained tracks, which are then used by rail shippers. This plan is entirely parallel to a country, such as the US, that has publicly maintained roads. Obviously when you seek profits, getting a good quarter result, you skip on maintenance. You do not specify cars that have a strong steel frame that takes the stress, rather you make the tank, each tank, take the stress. (Each coupler has about one inch of “give”, and so a train being pulled is longer than one being pushed, etc. When the train goes from “long (fully extended)” to "short (fully collapsed), huge momentum events happen. A “tank” cannot handle such stress.) Of course the railroads are not going to do any “excess” maintenance. Indeed the only reason why the Boston-DC track has concrete ties is because the Feds did that. CSX is just another of those profit first and only corporations and the “high speed” service never could happen in the “private” sector. We can change the system. But for now, we have the system of rail accidents. Best not to live near the tracks, seems to me. Regulation? Indeed we have that now. We have a bunch of bandits who occupy Congress, and they do the regulation. Sort of one of those “check your own badge” deals. The best regulation is no regulation, after all. Having a good country requires having a good government.


For sure, this is a new kind of disguise for foreign terrorists who now are making themselves look like trains.


Excellent. informative, substantive comment that is nicely stated. Thank you!


“Safer” tank cars…not unlike the 'Safer" ocean-going tankers, I suppose (single hull vs double hull) but if the tanker (ocean-going) is registered in Liberia as the vast majority are, there are no regulations mandating double-hull tankers. And, without those regulations or enforcement thereof, massive oil spills will continue along with the resulting environmental destruction/devastation on the oceans/seas and on land as demonstrated by ongoing derailment events. Clean up is just enough to make things appear to be back to normal and the offenders spend millions on their PR BS to assuage the public (whom they consider to be either ignorant or unconcerned). Out of sight, out of mind as the adage goes.

Make the tankers (train) “safe” without maintaining the tracks they run on or checking regularly for their integrity/safety is absurd. Not unlike putting more planes in the air and not maintaining the runways or upgrading and sufficiently manning the towers (Air Traffic). Oh, almost forgot, how about the maintenance/safety of all the bridges the oil trains cross.

Oh well, as long as the greedy reprobates in the extraction industry (oil, gas, coal, minerals) and their contractors (private railroads, trucking firms, pipeline owners, refineries, etc.) run the show with their treasure troves of cash and their penchant for shoring up their bottom lines, boosting profits, and paying dividends no matter the cost to all life and the environment, NOTHING WILL CHANGE…it will continue BAU.