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Last month, an oil train carrying highly volatile crude exploded in the West Virginia countryside. Just days before, a 100 car train carrying Albertan tar sands caught fire and derailed near Timmons, Ontario. Accidents involving exploding oil trains seem commonplace now- 85 in the first half of 2013, according to records.

The reason: North Dakota’s surge in oil production has greatly outpaced pipeline capacity. So, drillers increasingly use rail to transport their product to market. This results in highly volatile oil carried in outdated train cars ill equipped to handle these hazardous materials.

Hitting Home

From underneath the Howard Street Bridge, I often hear the squeak of CSX trains traveling underground on my light rail ride home. In Baltimore, we expect increases in the volume of petroleum-by-rail destined for the port terminal. The oil industry desires Baltimore as a destination so they can ship crude oil by tanker to refineries along the East Coast. And, if Congress lifts the oil export ban, these shipments will go worldwide. Targa Resources, a Texas-based company, recently filed a permit to construct a crude oil shipping facility at the Fairfield peninsula in South Baltimore.

No Landmark Left Behind

According to a local locomotive engineer:

The CSX trains in Baltimore follow a torturous route through numerous old tunnels. The north-south route bisects the city and traverses west Baltimore, under the Howard Street tunnel, under downtown, then out the east end.

The trains travel through the heart of Charm City: winding through neighborhoods surrounding Route 40, Charles Street, St. Paul Street, M & T Bank Stadium, Johns Hopkins University, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the American Visionary Art Museum, The Maryland Zoo, and Herring Run Park.

Appealing to Our Leaders

In Annapolis, Delegate Lam has introduced a bill asking the Departments of the Environment and Health and Mental Hygiene to assess the risks of crude by rail transport and disclose how much crude travels through Maryland. The Baltimore City Council will also hold a public hearing soon to consider something similar. We will be there.

How We Win

Our friends at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), Sierra Club, and Clean Water Action are leading a campaign to stop these exploding oil trains. Through signature gathering, canvassing drives, outreach to community leaders, these citizen-activists warn businesses, community associations, and policy makers that Baltimore faces the same dangers as the many communities where explosions have already happened. In communities everywhere, mayors, emergency personnel, and neighbors have joined together taking a stand against crude oil trains in their communities. In Baltimore, we stand with them.

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