With the recent emotionally charged oil car derailment in Mosier, coupled with the request for Washington state to allow oil shipments by rail to Vancouver, there have been statements made that need clarification/correction.
Rail tank cars do not exceed the design weight limit for the track. The rail system is designed to take the weight. Companies and the railroads have processes in place to ensure exceeding the weight limit does not happen. A car of light Bakken crude can be loaded to the maximum possible by law without exceeding this weight limit. The law requires leaving a minimum of a 1 percent void space. This small unfilled volume does not allow the crude to appreciably “slosh” back and forth in the cars.
Also, because it is light, Bakken unloads with little residual remaining in cars. A volume of 15 percent is not left in the cars. Empty cars returned for refilling cannot be more dangerous than the full ones — in fact they are less dangerous.
When these cars are loaded correctly, tracks are maintained to design specifications, and train speed and other operational limits are observed, the shipment of crude oil, while not entirely risk-free, is a relatively safe endeavor.
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Gary Weimer, West Richland