Just over a year after an oil-train explosion in Quebec killed 47 people, information on the threats oil trains present to public safety is starting to seep through a long blackout in which railroads convinced pliable federal regulators that the public was better off not knowing.
Local first responders and some state governments are leading the way by disclosing the number of potentially explosive trains and the populated areas they rumble through. Even oil-friendly states like Pennsylvania and Oklahoma are slowly changing their minds. And journalists using the Freedom of Information Act have shown a vulnerable public what some states are hiding with encouragement by the railroads.
Journalists from the Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers were having poor luck prying the information loose from Maryland and Pennsylvania, two of the states that have been reluctant to disclose. But Amtrak, the passenger railroad, owns some tracks along the Northeast Corridor used by oil trains operated by CSX and Norfolk Southern. And Amtrak is subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In early August, the two news organizations got FOIA'd information about oil trains running over the Amtrak track segments in the two states.
The cat may be out of the bag, though. After the Federal Railroad Administration ruled that states could not withhold the information on security grounds, the politically powerful railroads convinced some states to sign non-disclosure agreements. Such an agreement is now under legal challenge in Maryland.
- "Pennsylvania Crude Oil Train Data Still Not Going to Right Officials," McClatchy Washington Bureau, August 12, 2014, by Curtis Tate.
- "Amtrak Provides Crude Oil Train Details States Had Withheld," McClatchy Washington Bureau, August 4, 2014, by Curtis Tate.
- Editorial: "The Record: Jersey's Oil Trains," Bergen Record, August 13, 2014.
- "As Oil Train Traffic Rises, Minnesota Officials Urge Catastrophe Preparedness," BringMeTheNews, August 12, 2014, by Jessica Mador.
- "Rail Companies Want To Keep Oil Train Route Information a Secret in Oregon and Washington," Climate Progress, June 10, 2014, by Katie Valentine.
- "Oklahoma Begins Posting Information About Bakken Oil Train Shipments," Oklahoma City Oklahoman, August 5, 2014, by Paul Monies.
- "Railroads Release New Oil Train Data," The Columbian, June 24, 2014, by Aaron Corvin and Eric Florip.
- Previous Stories: WatchDogs of July 17, 2014 and June 25, 2014.