"All aboard! Now leaving from Track Eleven..."
Casey Jones Kids Show
Oh my. What a mess - an environmental disaster. Yesterday, two trains, both about 100 cars long, ran into each other in North Dakota. One was mostly grain cars and the other was mostly oil tankers, filled to the brim with Bakken Field oil. It happened yesterday afternoon, and is still burning out of control this morning. How could this have happened? Human error, switching problems, or a fail track issue are possibilities. In any event, the NTSB is now on site to figure out the how and why of this mess.
Since our ad-hoc energy policy has eschewed a more highly reliable pipeline service such as the Keystone XL, we have turned out aging rail system into a pipeline on tracks. This is the second big oil car mess we have had this year, with the first being up in Canada. When crude oil burns, it is a nasty brew. Many of us can remember when Saddam's forces set fire to Kuwait's oil field as they departed. It creates pollution on a grand scale.
The only thing we have heard from our Administration concerning our rail system is how cool and trendy it would be to go faster. High speed rail. Nothing about safer, only faster. Recent research in Australia has concluded that their rail system is very vulnerable to extended heat waves. Most metals have a point of stress. It turns out the combination of increasing weight and prolonged heat pushed some of their tracks beyond tolerance levels.
When it comes to shipping products, it is hard to beat rail for costs. For the most part, their safety record is pretty good. When it comes to transporting people, the jury is still out. People have not rushed to an Amtrak type solution for a myriad of reasons. The net result is Amtrak never has operated in the black, it just bleeds cash.
My suggestions as we go forward are as follows:
- Stick to our knitting - Rail has worked well for goods but not so well for people. Focus on shipping goods. Scrap high speed trains as all they will only be is one more easy target for deranged terroristic minds.
- Radar on trains - Human error will be with us always. With today's technology, having two trains collide on the same track should be preventable. Have some kind of proximity radar on train engines should eliminate same track crashes.
- Build more pipelines - Get off you butt, tell your left wing greenies to shut up, and build the Keystone XL, as well as any other pipelines which will take crude oil off the rails. It is cheaper and safer (although not perfect) to deliver petro products by pipeline.
- Upgrade track - Like much of our aging infrastructure, some of our track should be upgraded with the latest and greatest metal technology. Without good rail, all the other safeguards are meaningless.
I fear until we ensure the nexus of our transportation system and energy policy can operate in harmony, we will have more crude spilled and burning by railroad tracks. We were lucky this time - nobody was killed. Might not be the same case next time.