In January, Tuscaloosanews.com in Alabama reported that a railroad bridge spanning the Black Warrior River — which is over 115 years old — would receive $2.5 million for repairs. The bridge was used as a central example in “Boom: North America’s Explosive Oil by Rail Problem,” an Investigative Fund story by Marcus Stern and Sebastian Jones, which was reported in partnership with The Weather Channel and InsideClimate News. The investigation, published in December, demonstrated the crumbling infrastructure along rail routes on which trains carry crude oil.
In February, after the investigation was published, the US Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) ordered an audit of oversight of railroad bridge safety, which will begin in March. “Boom!” highlighted the lack of oversight and the FRA’s reliance on individual railroads to maintain bridges, as well as the lack of a central database with the annual inspection reports. In its order for the audit, the FRA cited its own records for the statistic that over the last 10 years, “24 train accidents caused by misalignment or failure of railroad bridges resulted in 392 injuries.” Both the investigation and audit point out that oil by rail traffic has increased significantly in recent years, raising the potential for accidents.
Those accidents, however, are not abating. Last Friday one of those trains derailed just outside the town of Gogama, Ontario, sending several tank cars into the river, and starting a fire that destroyed the nearby rail bridge. It was the the fifth train to derail in North America in the past three weeks.