Two years after a fatal oil-train derailment in Quebec drew national attention to the transport of crude oil, more than 100 people gathered Saturday in Center City to remember the victims and demand better train safety controls in Philadelphia.
“These trains go through our neighborhoods and right past our most important icons, and right by a major water supply,” said Tracy Carluccio, director of special projects at Delaware Riverkeeper Network, one of the groups that organized the rally at Schuylkill River Trails park, near tracks used by oil trains daily. “We are all exposed to this danger.”
Petroleum from North Dakota’s Bakken oil field has been implicated in several dramatic North American rail accidents in recent years, most recently in February in West Virginia, when a fiery crash erupted near Mount Carbon. In the 2013 accident in Canada, a train derailed and crashed in Lac Megantic, Quebec, exploding in fire and killing 47 people.
Two major freight carriers, CSX and Norfolk Southern, now move from 45 to 80 oil trains through Philadelphia each week, according to city officials.
Some residents who live near the tracks in Center City or South Philadelphia said they felt unsafe knowing that the trains carry such volatile material.
Jed Dodd of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, which represents Norfolk Southern and CSX workers, said the city must strengthen safety guidelines that govern such trains, and put pressure on the federal government to do the same.
“It’s only a matter of time for an oil train to jump off a track, cause a crash, and destroy a piece of Philadelphia,” he said.
The rally included a memorial for Quebec’s victims, as well as a jazz funeral procession led by the West Philadelphia Orchestra marching band.
Environmental groups have lobbied the city to take action since a CSX oil train last year derailed on a bridge near Center City. The accident caused no leaks, but the oil cars tilted precariously over the Schuylkill.
In March, Council urged the federal government to tighten rules on crude oil trains. It also called for the city to plan emergency-response workshops for communities on rail routes.
Area refineries have become increasingly dependent upon rail shipments of domestic crude oil, which has displaced more expensive imported oil delivered by ships.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions, which operates the former Sunoco refinery in South Philadelphia, has said a large-scale accident is unlikely here because trains run on isolated tracks and do not move at high speeds when traveling through the city.