Close Menu

Alabama Oil Train Derailment and Explosion had Canadian Tragedy Potential

(Aliceville, Alabama – November 8, 2013)

Only the remoteness of the area in which it happened prevented the possibility of a crude oil derailment and explosion such as occurred in two locations in Canada in the past year when 20 cars of a 90-car Alabama and Gulf Coast Railway freight train derailed early Friday morning at about 1:45 A.M. near the Pickens County, AL community of Aliceville, with three of the tank cars of crude oil exploding and setting fire to the others in addition to destroying a trestle over a waterway.

Officials said the site, near County Highway 14, was not near any homes or commercial areas, and the 11  cars still on fire would be allowed to burn themselves out rather than risking the lives of emergency responders by attempting to extinguish the flames, which shot as high as 300 feet. The train was carrying oil originating in the Balkan Oil Fields of North Dakota and was destined for a Florida refinery.

Reuters News Service called Friday’s derailment “one of the most dramatic of its kind in the United States” since the increase in shipping crude oil by rail began a few years ago.  Elena McGovern, Global Energy and Natural Resources analyst at Eurasia Group told the news agency that the accident “will provide very clear evidence of the potential risks for environmental groups and others opposed to the growth of crude by rail, and will likely increase pressure to tighten regulations.”

In the wee morning hours of July 6, an allegedly-secured Montreal, Maine and Atlantic freight train carrying crude oil rolled down a lengthy incline and derailed a number of tank cars in the business district of the tourist-friendly town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, where exploding carloads of the commodity incinerated half of the community’s downtown, killing 47 people.

On October 20, a 134-car Canadian National freight train derailed 13 cars in a rural area of Alberta, Canada, resulting in the explosion of three tank cars carrying liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and the exposure of the other derailed cars, which carried crude oil, to conflagration or explosion.

Alabama EMA Regional Coordinator Don Hartley said crews were working to keep the spilled oil out of the creeks and sloughs in the area, and that no homes or businesses were in danger nor had any injuries been reported. One family, however, was evacuated as a precaution, but was later allowed to return.

The Alabama and Gulf Coast Railway was acquired by regional and short line railroad management group Genesee & Wyoming Corporation last year when the Darien, CT-headquartered company acquired all the assets of the RailAmerica SL/RGL railroad group, increasing G&W’s stable of railroads to 111. The A&GC operates 348 miles of railroad in three states, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.