- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Dozens of crude oil-carrying train derailments in recent years have prompted federal regulators to focus on improving the safety of tanker cars, though a newspaper’s analysis of federal records show that track defects and human error are to blame for most incidents.

Trains carrying Bakken crude - a type of highly volatile oil - have made safety an issue in cities across the country, including Columbus.

Records show that about 45 million to 137 gallons of Bakken crude oil moves through Ohio each week, with as much as 25 million gallons through Franklin County, The Columbus Dispatch (https://bit.ly/1RxLRq9 ) reported in the first of a three-part series on crude-train incidents.

Much of the crude oil comes from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota and Montana. Ohio is a way point between the formation and refineries on the East Coast.

A study finished this year by a Franklin County consultant found that crude oil tops the list of common commodities carried through the area on trains and trucks.

The study’s authors watched trains pass at seven locations across the county and found that about 14 percent of the train cars carried hazardous materials. Almost half of those cars carried crude oil by offices, restaurants, apartments and the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

Ohio has a plan in place to deal with hazardous materials, but nothing specific for Bakken crude oil.

“The reason this issue is becoming more prominent is because of the weight of crude oil and ethanol trains,” said Christopher Hart, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates the most serious train crashes.

Hart said the focus on hazardous-materials crashes is to prevent derailments, ensure tank cars do not breach and ensure emergency personnel are prepared for crashes.

U.S. rail authorities have focused on tanker cars, spurring regulations that carry an estimated $1.7 billion in upgrades aimed at making the cars less likely to spill during derailment.

But records analyzed by the Dispatch show that about one-third of train incidents in the past 20 years involved track problems, such as a faulty joint, and slightly more than one-third of incidents were caused by human error, such as a crew member falling asleep.

In the past two decades, the growth in crude-oil shipments has meant more derailments and other issues, the newspaper reports.

An analysis shows that from 1995 to 2010, crude oil spilled from trains a total of 27 times, costing an average of about $46,000 a spill to clean. From 2010 to July 2015, crude oil spilled from trains 423 times at an average cleanup cost of more than $109,000.

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, https://www.dispatch.com

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