Emergency Responders Tested by Crude Oil Train Derailment

The clean-up continues in Plainfield following a Friday evening train derailment involving crude oil. Still, the number of trains carrying the highly-volatile product has skyrocketed in recent years as area emergency management agencies continue training for worst case scenarios.

Crude oil shipments by rail increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 493,146 carloads in 2014 before falling to 211,986 carloads in 2016, according to the Association of American Railroads. A variety of factors impact rail crude oil volumes, including pipeline capacity and crude oil price spreads.

A 2015 NBC 5 Investigates analysis of state records showed around 40 crude oil trains rolled through the Chicago area every week. The trains can stretch more than a mile long and contain 100 tanker cars.

The trains have been nicknamed “bomb trains”. In case of an emergency, a half mile on either side of train tracks could be evacuated.

Last Friday’s derailment near an industrial area of Plainfield mangled a stretch of tracks and sent crude oil spilling out of tanker cars. But it did not cause an explosion or a fire.

“If you're talking that scenario where you have an explosion in a residential neighborhood, it's going to be devastating for that community, but we were very fortunate that that did not occur here in Plainfield,” said Plainfield Police Chief John Konopek.

First responders in Plainfield said prior training with the railroad helped them to better prepare for a crude oil train derailment. They said they had the situation under control within two hours.

“When we pulled up on it we were calculating right around 570,000 gallons of crude off the track, so we were planning for that scenario,” said Plainfield Fire Department Deputy Chief Jon Stratton.

No one was hurt during or after the derailment. Meanwhile, crude oil from the site is being transported to nearby containers and air quality is being monitored.

The cause of the derailment is still being investigated.

A spokesperson for Canadian National Railroad said track repairs were made over the weekend, allowing train operations to resume. The clean-up is expected to continue into this week.

Meanwhile, the American Association of Railroads said the freight rail industry takes every incident seriously.

“Thousands of trains safely move across the United States every day without incident and rail safety has been dramatically improving over the last several decades with 2016 being the safest year on record,” wrote an AAR spokesperson in a statement. “The industry always takes a hard look at the cause of incidents, but also, seeks to determine what lead to the cause.”

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