At 6:30 p.m. on June 30, 2017, twenty oil tanker cars belonging to Canadian National Railway derailed near to the downtown in Plainfield, Illinois, forty miles southwest of Chicago. The cars piled up against each other, accordion style. Four of the tanker cars leaked, and 45,000 gallons of crude oil spilled. Much of the crude oil flowed into trenches along the railroad. Fortunately, none of the oil reached the DuPage River. None of the oil caught fire.

Moving crude oil by rail has been controversial. Shipments from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota peaked at 498,271 in 2014, according to the Association of American Railroads. At that time, many oil tanker cars being used to transport the oil from North Dakota to refineries on the East Coast were older with fewer safety features. In 2015, twenty-one tanker cars on a Burlington-Northern Santa Fe train derailed just south of Galena, Illinois. Several of them ruptured, split open, and blew up. The 105-car train was headed to Chicago at the time of the accident.

According to the March 6, 2015 ABC -7 Chicago news report at, “New information from federal authorities is that that 25 million Americans live within the 1-mile evacuation zone that straddles tracks used by crude oil lines. Dozens of the tanker trains crisscross metro Chicago each week.”

In December of 2015, President Obama signed a transportation law called the FAST Act. The law requires that the new cars must have thicker steel shells, insulating materials, full-size metal shields at each end, and improved outlet valves underneath the car.

The new rules create a new standard, “high-hazard, flammable trains.” These are defined as “a continuous block of twenty or more tank cars loaded with flammable liquid or 35 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid dispersed through-out a train.” Tanker cars carrying petroleum crude oil are marked with a DOT placard with a hazmat symbol and the number 1267.

According to, “Seventy percent of the oil being fracked out of those booming fields in North Dakota’s Bakken region is shipped via what the oil industry calls a ‘rolling pipeline’ of railroad trains.” Despite the obvious problems of transporting oil by rail, the Association of American Railroads has pointed out that railroads have an excellent safety record with crude oil, even surpassing pipelines in recent years.

—By Karen Centowski

To see a video about the oil tanker train, go to Freight Train Carrying Crude Oil Derails in Suburban Plainfield You Tube.

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