- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The number of trains carrying at least a million gallons of volatile crude oil across Nebraska and Iowa surged this spring to as many as 30 a week.

BNSF railroad has told emergency management officials in both states that it is now hauling 20 to 30 trains per week, on average, loaded with oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region through the area.

That’s up significantly from last summer when federal regulators began requiring railroads to notify state officials about trains carrying at least 1 million gallons of oil.

Last summer, BNSF initially reported an average of three trains a week that crossed the northwest corner of Iowa before continuing south into Nebraska. In January, the railroad reported hauling about a dozen trains a week through eastern Nebraska.

BNSF spokesman Andy Williams said the oil train traffic increased last month in Nebraska and Iowa because the railroad is rerouting shipments from other rail lines while work is being performed on those tracks.

Railroad shipments of crude oil are facing additional scrutiny and tougher regulations because there have been several fiery derailments involving the commodity in recent years. The worst one happened in July 2013 and killed 47 people in a small Canadian city just across the U.S.-Canada border from Maine.

Four high-profile derailments involving crude oil have already happened this year.

In February, a 100-car Canadian National train hauling crude oil and petroleum distillates derailed in a remote part of Ontario, Canada. And less than two days later, a 109-car CSX oil train derailed and caught fire near Mount Carbon, West Virginia, leaking oil into a Kanawha River tributary and burning a house to its foundation.

In early March, a BNSF train derailed about 3 miles outside of Galena, Illinois, and the Mississippi River. Three days later, a Canadian National train derailed in northern Ontario and destroyed a bridge.

In Nebraska, the oil trains enter at the northeast corner of the state and cross 12 eastern counties. Those include Dakota, Thurston, Burt, Dodge, Saunders, Cass, Lancaster, Gage, Johnson, Pawnee, Richardson and Sarpy counties.

Most of the trains cross the Missouri River south of Omaha and cross 16 southern Iowa counties. They are Adams, Clarke, Des Moines, Henry, Jefferson, Lee, Lucas, Lyon, Mills, Monroe, Montgomery, Plymouth, Sioux, Union, Wapello and Woodbury counties.

New federal rules for the tank cars that carry crude oil and regulations for railroad operations are expected to be released later this spring.

The number of carloads railroads hauled nationwide increased again last year to 493,126 from 407,761 in 2013. Before the oil boom took off in the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana as well as in Canada railroads hauled just 9,500 carloads of crude oil in 2008.

BNSF, which is owned by Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc., hauls much of the oil produced in the Bakken region. It is based in Fort Worth, Texas.

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