Preparedness is the Key to Rail Safety, Not A Ban

In the aftermath of the terrible oil train crash in Oregon last month, communities, experts, and stakeholders from across the country have been very vocal in trying to determine the solution to prevent these accidents.

In an op-ed published in Morning Consult, Mark Chubb, former president of the Institution of Fire Engineers, USA Branch and a retired chief fire officer, explains how efforts to ban the shipping of crude by rail are “dead on arrival” and simply not the answer to tragic accidents like the Oregon derailment. Instead the current chief resilience officer at a Seattle-based consulting firm specializing in planning and public policy notes that “a more responsible approach is to ensure that emergency managers and first responders are adequately equipped and trained to handle accidents on the rare and unfortunate occasions when they do occur.”

He discusses how rail is actually one of the safest and most efficient modes of transporting hazardous materials and points out that in 2014 alone, freight rail carried more than 525,000 carloads of crude oil, and more than 99.99 percent of these shipments safely reached their destinations. It is only when rare accidents occur does the public stop and look.

Additionally, Chubb notes the importance of this type of activity on our nation’s economy. “Nobody is saying we should ignore these accidents.  Each situation must be investigated and corrective actions applied.  But it is important to remember that our nation’s vast shipping network, which includes hundreds of thousands of miles of highways, rail, waterways and airspace, is essential to our economy.”

Overall the public focus to find a solution to prevent these disasters is welcomed and principled. But efforts to ban oil by rail is simply unjustifiable. As Chubb writes, “The answer to an oil train accident is not to ban rail shipments.  It is preparedness and training.  And that’s where we need continued commitment to provide such from the railroads and producers of hazardous materials moved across the country today.”