U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin joked about the timing as a freight train containing crude oil tanker cars rumbled past a downtown Aurora fire station on Friday.
But the subject was quite serious as the Democratic senator talked about tanker car safety in the wake of increasing oil transport via rail through northern Illinois and into the Chicago area.
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner and other local officials joined Durbin at an appearance at the Aurora Central Fire Station to talk about efforts to increase safety of cars and protect vulnerable populations in the event of derailments.
“Just five years ago very little crude oil was hauled by the nation’s railroads,” Durbin said. “Today more than 1.1 million barrels per day — more than expected — move by rain, largely originating in the Midwest. With more communities involved, we need to make sure these materials are transported in the safest possible way.”
It was not known if the tanker cars passing through Aurora were full or empty while moving on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe elevated freight line. The train was among as many as six that pass through the area on a daily basis.
Much of the oil is coming from fields in the Plains states that have come online in recent years.
Aurora is a crossroads for oil traffic with a BNSF line that cuts through the heart of the city and on towards Montgomery, Oswego and points west. On the city’s east side is a north-south freight line that has had traffic increase since an acquisition by the Canadian National railroad around 2007.
While derailments are rare, there was a serious accident last March outside Galena in northwestern Illinois when a 105-car freight train derailed and several oil tanker cars caught fire.
Durbin said a recently enacted long-term transportation bill increases the focus on tank car safety. It calls for retrofitted tanker cars, studies on long-term crude oil volatility and better information on shipments provided by rail lines to local emergency response officials.
Durbin is also co-sponsor of new bills that would expedite a transition to stronger tanker cars plus fund for additional inspectors. Another bill offers monetary incentives to railroads to replace old fleets.
“These steps are just the beginning,” Foster, the 11th district Democratic representative, said. “With America’s production of energy and chemicals, we must continue to be vigilant and ensure that we are doing everything we can to transport those items safely.”
— Durbin, Foster push oil tanker safety in Aurora appearance —