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Friday, July 11, 2014

Lac-Megantic Oil Train Victims Remembered

La Crosse Citizens Called to Wake Up and Recognize the Dangers of Oil Trains As Canadians Lost in Derailment Disaster Last Year Are Remembered

La Crosse residents gathered near Central High School and the rail tracks Thursday to call for protection of local communities from the dangerous oil trains that pass near several schools, business, homes, and sensitive environmental areas every day.

The memorial service, organized by the local group CARS (Citizens Acting for Rail Safety), included a reminder by CARS member, Rev. Curtis Miller, that the explosion that killed at least 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec last July 6, was not a natural disaster but rather a fully preventable industrial accident.

Miller pointed out that citizen action is needed to demand reforms or we will continue to experience these disasters. At least 42 trains, each carrying atleast one million gallons of highly explosive Bakken crude oil, passthrough the heart of La Crosse every week.

The names and brief biographies of the 47 Lac-Mégantic victims were read aloud as their pictures were posted on oil train models provided by CARS. Many of the victims, from babies to octogenarians, were so incinerated by the force of the explosion they were not able to be identified by thecoroner. Three rail employees have been charged with criminal negligence. The bankrupt Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic Railway, Ltd. is named as a co-accused in the trial, but none of its top officials have been charged.

Ironically, a 103 car oil train, carrying at least three million gallons of volatile crude oil, passed near the gathering and high school during the memorial ceremony.

Following the ceremony, CARS member, Guy Wolf of Stoddard, reminded the group that the proximity of tracks to the river and its tributaries provides even more opportunities for disaster. High flood levels may undermine rail beds and bridges, and local emergency providers, some of whom are sited within the potential blast zone, do not have the training, equipment and staffing to deal with major spills or explosions. The tracks through La Crosse pass near at least four public schools, and the 1/2 mile “blast zone” includes nearly one-quarter of La Crosse residents' homes, businesses and/or work places.

CARS member, Alan Stankevitz, who maintains the comprehensive DOT111 Reader  pointed out that industry and government officials have known for decades that rail cars used in the transport of volatile Bakken crude oil and many other toxic substances are known to be unsafe because of their relatively thin skin and susceptibility to ruptures.

A 2012 USA Today article on increasing oil shipments by rail notes that, “Larger trains are harder to control, and that increases the chances of something going wrong.” More oil was spilled in rail accidents inthe U.S. last year than in the previous four decades, according to federal statistics.

And yet safety and emergency preparedness is lagging terribly behind the ramp up in domestic oil extraction. U.S. oil producers are slated to increasetheir output by about 750,000 barrels per day in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s first projections. If export restrictions are eased by Congress, that figure may rise.

Besides the danger and fear of exploding trains, La Crosse residents' quality of life is being impacted by more, longer, and heavier trains. Noise, rumbling, and dust have caused structural damage and made some residents' homes nearly uninhabitable. Utilities workers have been delayed or blocked by parked oil trains. Residents of neighborhoods with access crossed by tracks worry that emergency responders and vehicles might be impeded by parked or moving trains.

Organizers of the event, are calling for the dangerous trains through the populated City to stop, for effective emergency preparedness and the release and dissemination of critical emergency response information to the people of La Crosse, and for sweeping change of oil transport at the federal regulatory level.

A national petition calling for a ban on the use of outdated and unsafe DOT111 tank cars is circulating at the website dot111.info. Known as “Pepsi cans on wheels,” this model of rail cars is known to puncture and explode due to substandard construction and the high volatility of Bakken crude oil.

“Ticking time-bombs should not be rolling by our schools and neighborhoods on a daily basis. And it's not just our community. Dangerous oil-bomb trains are threatening citizens and businesses all over the country,” said Duane Teschler of Veterans for Peace.

“What is truly evil about the train disaster in Lac-Mégantic is the fact that this disaster could have been prevented if human life and safety were valued as highly as maximum profits. This was not an accident but a criminal act. The proximity of rail lines to schools and businesses in our city make us realize that what happened in Quebec last year could very easily have happened here,” said George Nygaard, a member of CARS.

“I was more affected than I thought I would be thinking about the people who were killed in Lac-Mégantic. They could be my own friends and family members. This immoral system - where producing more and more dirty fossil fuels for export on the world market takes precedence over the lives of people living and working in communities all across the country - has to change. I don't want to see a La Crosse area resident interviewed on national news about an oil train explosion near Central High or major devastating contamination of the Mississippi River. Things will not change until and unless all of us wake up to these dangers and force things to change,” said CARS member, Irving Balto.

CARS, Citizens Acting for Rail Safety, sponsored the July 10 event.

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