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Will the Quebec Accident Derail the Oil Train Boom?

Will the Quebec Accident Derail the Oil Train Boom?
Photograph by Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP Photo

By now, you’ve seen the pictures. Last Saturday, a train carrying 72 carloads of Bakken crude from North Dakota to a refinery in Quebec caught fire, rolled eight miles down a hill, and crashed into the tiny Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, triggering an enormous explosion. Fifteen people have now been confirmed killed and 40 are still missing. For the sake of comparison, the Deepwater Horizon oil-rig explosion in 2010 left 11 people dead.

The train accident comes just as railroads are enjoying a resurgence in the amount of oil they haul. Last month I wrote a magazine story about how railroads have beaten pipelines to the punch by connecting refining hubs around the U.S. to the new hot-spots of oil production in such remote places as North Dakota, Oklahoma, and West Texas. In the first three months of 2013, trains moved more than 97,000 carloads of crude in the U.S.—900 percent more than in all of 2008. With such a huge increase, it was only a matter of time before something like this happened.