Over five years ago, in the early hours of July 6, 2013, a train carrying highly flammable and volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota derailed in the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. The explosion killed 47 people and destroyed the historic downtown, spilling over 1.5 million gallons of oil.
Subsequent investigations showed that the disaster was entirely avoidable. To start with, the company was running a 72-car, mile-long oil train with a single engineer as the only crewmember. A lax safety culture at the railroad company, a cost-cutting mindset in the entire railroad industry, and the growth of deregulatory ideology in the Canadian and U.S. governments were all contributing factors.
Five years later all these factors are still present. The number of runaway trains has increased. Railroad management is still cutting corners, and government regulators are still looking the other way. Volatile crude oil shipments by rail are now 2-3 times what they were in 2013, increasing the likelihood of disasters such as Lac-Mégantic. But the alternatives to rail shipments – pipelines – are also dangerous. Continued reliance on oil production is known to pose an existential threat to the Earth’s climate.
The next Lac-Mégantic tragedy could be somewhere in the mid Atlantic region with oil and fracked gas production increasing in a region so heavily reliant on rail to move both passengers and freight.
Join the Institute for Policy Studies to learn more about these critical issues and discuss ways to respond.