A Danger on Rails is a 2015 short documentary by filmmaker and journalist Jon Bowermaster that examines the danger posed by crude oil trains. Black and ominous, these 100-plus car trains carry highly flammable Bakken shale and Alberta tar sands crude oil and have been an increasingly common—and lethal—sight across communities in the United States.
Op-Docs: ‘A Danger on Rails’
By Jon Bowermaster, Published in The New York Times
I live in the Hudson Valley and see these trains daily; Albany is a major hub, and trains traveling south down the Hudson River toward mid-Atlantic refineries hug its shores. Every day on the East Coast, as many as 400,000 barrels of this explosive mixture travel through our backyards over shaky bridges, highways and overpasses.
As this Op-Doc video shows, there are reasons to be very concerned about this increased train traffic, which is directly related to the boom in oil and gas drilling in the Midwest. These trains can be very dangerous, prompting some to call them “bomb trains.” There have already been horrific railway accidents in North America caused when these trains go off the tracks, some of them fatal.
No one wants the responsibility, or expense, of improving the safety of the cars, fuel, tracks or related infrastructure that would reduce the threat. While new regulations are expected in May from the United States Department of Transportation, environmentalists are not hopeful for much change — given the powerful lobbying efforts of the oil and rail industries.
Already this year there have been four serious derailments, resulting in spills, explosions and fires. Safety and Homeland Security officials have mentioned these “rolling bombs” as potential terrorist weapons. And the Department of Transportation has estimated that at this rate there will be 15 major accidents in the United States this year alone. I hope we will do our best to prevent them.
“The Transportation Safety Board has said 85 percent of these cars should not be handling this sort of petroleum,” said Paul Gallay, the president of Riverkeeper, a Hudson River environmental watchdog group, in the film. “One hundred and twenty cars on some of these trains, 30,000 gallons of fuel per car, a very volatile fuel. When it comes down to it, each of these train cars is like a rolling bomb.”
Riverkeeper is calling on the federal government to take immediate action, including limiting the length and speed of crude oil trains, in order to protect communities and the environment before the next disaster occurs.
The group is also asking New York State citizens to urge Governor Cuomo and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to ban the use of inappropriate DOT-111 cars for transporting crude oil and open a public process for developing new rules and regulations governing oil transportation.
Jon Bowermaster’s most recent documentaries include “Antarctica 3D, On the Edge” and “Dear Governor Cuomo: New Yorkers Against Fracking in One Voice.’’ He is a 30-year resident of the Hudson Valley.