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Rail shipment of petroleum products soars in Canada and US.

11 July 2013  |  Bloomberg

By Jim Efstathiou Jr. and Angela Greiling Keane

The train hauling millions of gallons of crude oil that slammed into a Canadian town got there with a crew of one — staffing permitted by law though opposed by labor leaders who've warned of the risks.

The union representing workers at Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd. fought the company policy that allowed a solo operator to drive and park the train for the night and says the disaster points to the dangers of manpower cuts.

"It's unfortunate that it takes such a terrible, terrible, terrible situation like this to realize how vulnerable we are in this country," Guy Farrell, assistant to the Quebec director of the United Steelworkers Union, said in an interview.

In the US, crews of at least two people are the norm — down from five 50 years ago. Some non-union short-line railroads are using one-person crews and others are pushing to do so, Dennis Pierce, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen national president, said.

The safety of moving oil by train is drawing attention as production soars in areas not fully served by pipelines, such as North Dakota's Bakken Shale where the doomed Canadian train took on its freight. Carloads of crude and refined petroleum products carried by rail in the US rose 48 percent in the first half of this year, compared with the same period in 2012, according to the Association of American Railroads. In Canada, car loads of fuel and crude oil surged 74 percent in the first four months of this year, compared with the year-ago period, according to Statistics Canada.

Investigators are combing through the wreckage to determine how the MM&A train, with more than 70 tankers, rolled away from its parking spot July 6 after the engineer left it for the night. The train jumped the tracks as it reached Lac-Megantic, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) east of Montreal, incinerating 30 buildings in the town's center. Twenty people have been confirmed dead and scores more are missing and presumed dead…

Complete article on Bloomberg.com

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