FEMA planning for deadly worst-case oil train derailment scenario

Repost from The Journal Sentinal, Milwaukee WI
[Editor: FEMA held a “worst case” urban bomb train scenario/drill in New Jersey in March, and plans another in Wisconsin in June.  Will they also hold a big city drill here on the west coast?  We don’t have nearly the oil train traffic that Midwesterners and East Coasters see every day … yet.  But there is significant traffic in the Pacific Northwest and increasing deliveries and plans for more here in California.  A FEMA exercise would be an eye-opener here.  – RS]

FEMA drill plans for deadly worst-case oil train scenario

By Lee Bergquist and Crocker Stephenson, April 25, 2015

Federal authorities painted a frightening picture of what could happen if an oil train exploded in a big city.

In a mock drill in Jersey City, N.J., on March 19, authorities laid out a scenario where five oil tankers from a 90-car train would derail on an elevated track, spilling 100,000 gallons of crude oil.

The pool of highly combustible oil quickly ignited, sending a 300-foot fireball skyward. Jersey City is across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

The blast could kill an estimated 287 people within 200 yards of the explosion, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency documents.

Using information tailored to a Jersey City neighborhood, FEMA estimated that buildings up to 340 yards away [0.2 miles] could be severely damaged.

All told, more than 32,000 people within 1,500 yards [0.9 miles] of the explosion could be injured.

The rail cars are an older design that the federal government is proposing to phase out. Tens of thousands of the tankers are in use today.

The location selected by FEMA — near a freeway and surrounded by residential and commercial buildings — would not seem out of place from rail corridors of Milwaukee used by trains pulling oil tankers.

FEMA put on the exercise as one of the federal government’s first efforts at disaster planning for an oil train disaster in an urban area.

In its next such drill, federal officials will conduct a mock derailment involving oil trains with state and local authorities June 9-10 in the La Crosse area.

Oil trains moving through La Crosse travel in two directions — south down the Mississippi River valley and east across Wisconsin through Milwaukee before heading to Chicago-area refineries and other locations.