A total of seven cars from the 101-car freight train from Chicago derailed on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad Bridge at around 1 a.m. Monday, though the cause of the accident is not yet known. Six of the derailed cars contained crude oil, though no leaking was reported. A team of Coast Guard pollution responders was on scene, and CSX said it was working to clear the derailment “in a way that is safe and environmentally responsible.”
As of Tuesday, workers were still attempting to get the leaning sand car and oil tanker off the bridge, using a crane to tilt the cars back into their upright positions. Representatives for CSX said the removal of all the cars could take up to two days.
“This is unacceptable,” Philadelphia councilman Kenyatta Johnson told NBC News, demanding answers on what caused the accident and calling out CSX for a lack of transparency. “We’re going to be calling for hearings in the city of Philadelphia asking specifically for CSX to tell the city of Philadelphia how they are maintaining their bridges, and how they are maintaining their railways. They should assure the city of Philadelphia that their infrastructure is safe.”
The practice of transporting crude oil by rail has boomed in the last year, with most of the uptick in oil shipments coming from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale. A top official at North Dakota’s Mineral Resources Department said last month that as much as 90 percent of the state’s crude will move by freight rail in 2014, just one day before announcing record oil production of almost 1 million barrels per day — or approximately 5 percent of total U.S. oil consumption. A million barrels a day is more than the capacity of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport 830,000 barrels per day.
Most of the oil shipped by CSX is crude from the Bakken, as CSX Vice President of Public Safety Skip Elliott confirmed to Climate Progress last week.
With that increase in oil shipped by rail, more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled from rail cars in 2013, according to recent data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The amount spilled in 2013 is more than in the last four decades combined. PHMSA is also currently investigating whether oil from the Bakken shale is more explosive than other types of oil, possibly due to the fact that chemicals from the hydraulic fracturing process are mixing with the oil.
Meanwhile, a proposal to let CSX run trains carrying crude oil from the Bakken through an open trench in southeast D.C. is stirring controversy, with residents citing accidents like the one in Philadelphia as reason to toss the proposal.