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Philadelphia Derailment Sparks Outrage; Groups Press for Halt to Oil Trains

January 21, 2014

A view of the train cars and 1-76 on Monday. From Yahoo News.

As of 9 p.m. Monday night, the train cars were still on the bridge. According to a Reuters story published yesterday, “CSX Railroad said it would take one to two days for workers to remove the oil and sand cargo and the derailed cars.” But with close to a foot of snow falling on Philadelphia through Tuesday night, that seems unlikely.

For Immediate Release: January 21, 2014

Contacts: Iris Marie Bloom, Director, Protecting Our Waters, 215-840-6489
Matt Walker, Community Outreach Director, Clean Air Council, 215-567-4004 x
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Member, Philadelphia Interfaith Power and Light, 215-913-8363
Wes Gillingham, Program Director, Catskill Mountainkeeper, 845-901-1029

Philadelphia Derailment of “Oil Bomb” Train Sparks Outrage;

Near-Miss from Disaster is Sixth Derailment of Bakken Shale Train Since June

Groups Press for Immediate Halt

Philadelphia, PA – Outrage is building among residents whose lives are put at risk by the mile-long oil and gas trains coming from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota, Montana and Canada, in the aftermath of the oil train derailment yesterday in Philadelphia. The derailment occurred in a densely populated neighborhood, over a major highway, near several large universities, Children’s Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania medical complex. Rapid evacuation of a five-mile radius from any future oil train explosion and fire in the Philadelphia area, or any urban area, would be impossible. When a similar train exploded and burned on December 30th, 2013 in Casselton, North Dakota, evacuation was urged for a five-mile radius to avoid damaging inhalation of toxic smoke.

Today Protecting Our Waters, Clean Air Council, Philadelphia Interfaith Power and Light, the Catskill Mountainkeeper, and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy join together in calling for a halt to the dangerous trains carrying fracked oil and gas.

“This derailment, just blocks from my Philadelphia home of 24 years, is truly terrifying because all five of the other recent derailments of this type of shale oil and gas train have erupted into fireballs, including the one that incinerated fifteen acres of downtown Lac-Megantic and killed 47 people in that small town,” said Iris Marie Bloom, director of Protecting Our Waters, a Philadelphia-based grassroots nonprofit.

“Human life is worth more than oil and gas, which is changing our climate and harming the health of residents in the increasingly extreme “sacrifice zones” for fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure, including risky transportation. These ‘oil bomb’ trains are putting lives at risk in urban and rural areas alike,” Bloom continued. “We agree with Canadian Pacific Railroad CEO E. Hunter Harrison, who told CNBC on January 15th‘These 111 tank cars that you hear so much about, if I was calling the shots, would be stopped tomorrow.’’

“This near miss [in Philadelphia] highlights the public safety and health concerns related to a continued reliance on polluting fossil fuels for our energy needs,” said Matt Walker, Community Outreach Director of the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council. “No one—not the residents of the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota living near active drilling and flaring, or residents of Philadelphia, should have to be exposed to the health and safety impacts of unbridled dirty energy. The Council calls for a swift transition away from polluting and harmful energy, including fracked crude oil and gas, to clean, safe renewable energy, with conservation and energy efficiency.”

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, a member of the Philadelphia chapter of Interfaith Power and Light PA, said: “It is morally indefensible to endanger the lives of tens of thousands of people along hundreds of miles of railroad track by shipping an extremely dangerous substance in tanker cars that the authorities admit are unsafe and need to be phased out.”

“This could have been catastrophic,” said Wes Gillingham, Program Director for the Catskill Mountainkeeper. “The train could have exploded onto a busy highway, spewing the toxic contents directly into the Schuylkill river which flows into the Delaware River.”

“This should stand as a wake up call not just to Philadelphia but also all across the country to any community near a rail transport,” said Gillingham. “The clear message is we need to stop the runaway gas and oil industry from endangering our communities for the sake of their profits.”

Gillingham added, “Every time we turn around there is another report of problems with Bakken oil or tar sands crude being shipped by rail. In 2006, reports show there were 5000 rail cars of petroleum. Now we are up to somewhere around 500,000. This is a recipe for disaster with combination of inadequate inspections faulty cars, aging tracks and a greedy industry bent on getting their tar sands crude and fracked oil and gas to market as fast as they can no matter the cost to the communities along the way. In 2013, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), over 1.5 million gallons of crude spilled from rail cars. That is more than has spilled in the previous forty years.”

The exploding trains have also damaged air, drinking water and wetlands. Yesterday’s derailment put the Schuylkill River at risk as toxic Bakken shale oil, known to contain carcinogenic benzene and deadly hydrogen sulfide at high levels, dangles over the river, threatening to catch fire and explode as other train cars have done.

Economist Janette Barth, PhD, who has written and lectured extensively on the economic impact of shale gas development and is a director of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, commented, “The recent derailments and explosions of trains carrying crude are just another of the many costs that have not been considered in analyses of the economic impacts of increased shale oil and gas production in the United States. It is far too costly for Americans to allow continued exploration and development of shale oil and gas. The time is now to ramp down the production and use of fossil fuels and to increase the development of renewable energy.”

BACKGROUND: The chronology of six derailments across North America overshadows the fact that yesterday’s derailment is also the fourth derailment of this type of train to occur in the Philadelphia area since 2011. First, the five previous “oil bomb” train derailments, explosions, fires and evacuations:

1.    2013: June 6th: Lac-Megantic, Canada: Bakken Shale oil train derails, explodes, burns 15 acres of downtown Lac-Megantic, kills 42 people; additional five presumed dead.

2.    2013: October 19th: Edmonton, Canada: A fireballs erupts as a Bakken Shale train derails; one LPG car explodes and three burn; homes burn to the ground.

3.    2013: November 8th: In rural Alabama, 20 cars of a Bakken Shale oil train derail, burning and sending a fireball 300 feet into the air, also polluting a wetlands.

4.    2013: December 30th: In Casselton, North Dakota a stunning mushroom-shaped fireball erupts, followed by heavy plumes of toxic smoke, when 21 cars of a Bakken Shale oil and gas train derail and burn. Town evacuated; evacuation urged for everyone in a five mile radius to avoid the toxic smoke.

5.    2014: January 7th: Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, Canada: 150 people evacuated when 17 cars derailed including 5 oil cars, 4 LPG cars. Two LPG tank cars and one crude oil tank car caught fire.

6.    2014: January 20th: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Seven cars of a 101-car CSX train from Chicago derailed on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad Bridge over the Schuylkill River. Six were carrying crude oil, and one was carrying sand.

Philadelphia area derailments involving 111 type tank cars since 2011:

1.    Derailment in East Park near Fountain Green Drive in January 2011

2.    Derailment in Paulsboro in November 2012

3.    Derailment in September 2013 near PBF’s Paulsboro refinery

Risk factors making Bakken Shale oil trains particularly unacceptably dangerous:

1. Rail cars of the 111 type are not designed to carry this type of fuel.

2. Presence of volatile organic compounds, including carcinogenic benzene, increases pressure, flammability and explosive character of the fuel

3. Presence of deadly and explosive hydrogen sulfide gas, found by Enbridge in Bakken Shale oil at 1,200 parts per million. Just a few inhalations of H2S at 200 parts per million can cause respiratory failure in humans.

4. Researchers have found that in collisions, the highly rigid, thin skins of the (111 type) tank ruptures easily.

5. Rails over which these trains travel are often very old. The Philadelphia railroad bridge involved in yesterday’s derailment was built at the turn of the 20th century.

6. Experts are wondering whether the Bakken Shale oil and gas is so flammable that it should be re-categorized as a Class 1 explosive material, but while the experts wonder, it is categorized as if it is less explosive and flammable than it is.


Source for CNBC quote: A lifelong “railroad man,”  E. Hunter Harrison, CEO of Canadian Pacific, said on January 15th, 2014, “The 111 tank cars that you hear so much about, if I was calling the shots would be stopped tomorrow,” Harrison said, speaking with Tyler Matheson on CNBC’s Nightly Business Report. “They’re not ready, they’re not equipped for that commodity [Bakken Shale crude] as I see it, they’ve been controversial for two decades now, so that needs to change.”

Source for Philadelphia area derailments and H2S content in Enbridge oil tank: Hidden City: “A Petaled Rose of Hell: Refineries, Fire Risk, and the New Geography of Oil in Philadelphia’s Tidewater,” by Christopher Dougherty. Online at

  1. Jerry Lee Miller permalink
    January 21, 2014 3:24 pm

    Thank you again for reporting this!

  2. J. Jonik permalink
    January 21, 2014 4:51 pm

    CBS news showed the boxcar removed.  Tanker still there. Time of the image ?

    A few years back, in West Virginina, along the New River…CSX trains were constantly taking what’s left of the mountains down to the coal plants or to be shipped to coal plants.    CSX promos on WHYY (or is it NPR?) are So Nice…about hardly using any fuel to go a bunch of miles.  Classic greenwash.

       I think it would be proper to ask NPR or WHYY to not accept “support” from such a business.  How can they cover CSX-related news without bias, or at least, suspicion?  That is…IF they cover it.


    >________________________________ > From: Protecting Our Waters >To: >Sent: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 3:15 PM >Subject: [New post] Philadelphia Derailment Sparks Outrage; Groups Press for Halt to Oil Trains > > > > >Coryn S. Wolk posted: “As of 9 p.m. last night, the train cars were still on the bridge. According to a Reuters story published yesterday, “CSX Railroad said it would take one to two days for workers to remove the oil and sand cargo and the derailed cars.” But with close to a ” >

    • Coryn S. Wolk permalink*
      January 21, 2014 5:17 pm

      Hi, J.Jonik, and thanks for your comment. The images on our blog are from yesterday (with the heavy snow here, we’re not hopeful about getting a lot of images from today.) Tamara, one of our intrepid volunteers, took a photo last night that showed the boxcar (which was originally full of sand) still on the bridge. She said there was a crane behind it–it must have been removing the boxcar.

      Interestingly, CSX’s page on its work in Pennsylvania talks a lot about coal, but doesn’t say a word about the oil it’s carrying across the state and through our largest city. I guess oil is a risky cargo in more ways than one.

      Sponsorship of NPR and WHYY by fossil fuel companies and supporters (including natural gas) is a big issue. They’ve taken heat for it from listeners and environmental groups, and NPR’s Ombudsman and CEO actually met with representatives from a few environmental groups about it a few months ago. We’ll see if their coverage and ads improve.

  3. January 21, 2014 5:02 pm

    So far one candidate for governor supports action on this. They all should be concerned and joining Hanger in a call for action.

  4. January 21, 2014 7:04 pm

    Activists, CSX Concerned About Derailed Oil Trains by Maryclaire Dale nbc Philadelphia:–241343941.html

  5. January 22, 2014 12:50 am

    Reblogged this on Frack_Free_Farming.

  6. Roger Cohen permalink
    January 22, 2014 8:43 am

    John Hanger has been warning about this very thing:

  7. February 14, 2014 4:12 pm

    First Responders ask federal administrations to consider adding secondary containment to rail tank cars used to transport chlorine gas, providing lifesaving safety to First Responders and the public they serve. See First Responders Comments at PETITION C KIT

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