Special Report: Beyond the Rails

Special Report: Beyond the Rails

RICHMOND, VA - (WWBT) Utter destruction, as 47 people died in a lakeside village in Quebec. A train carrying tankers full of crude oil derailed and exploded in July of 2013.

Since that time, tanker cars burst into massive flames in Aliceville, Alabama. 400,000 gallons of crude caused an explosive fire in a derailment near Casselton, North Dakota.

In Lynchburg, Virginia, 17 tankers derailed, three emptied crude oil into a major Virginia river.

"We have a potential here for mass casualties with a giant fire event," said Fred Millar, an independent consultant on rail safety who's worked with several cities, counties and railroad unions.

We caught up with him in DC next to train tracks that carry crude oil four blocks from the White House.

"This huge load of very dangerous unit trains was put out on the rail lines with no advance notice. No advanced preparation.

Crude oil is highly flammable. And shipments by trains have increased by 4,000% since 2008.

The trains-- sometimes more than 100 cars at a time--are carrying the volatile loads from newly productive oil patches in North Dakota. It's helping to keep gas prices down at the pumps-- but does it come at cost?

99.95% of shipments- reach their destinations safely-- but several devastating accidents in the last two years-- like this fireball in the sky from a train carrying crude through West Virginia-- has the railroads under a microscope.

Mike Mohler's been a firefighter for 38 years. He worries about the men and women who will responded to these fireball derailments.

"Our us senators should be concerned. The people in the police and fire department should all be concerned. And we need answers from the industry as it relates to that.

Our Raycom media investigation-- asked states to turn over records-- Documents and route maps shared with emergency responders, by the railroads. They reveal just how much crude oil is coming down the tracks through our communities.

After months of denials-- states like Louisiana-- finally turned over the documents.

In just eight months-- 57 million gallons of crude oil traveled through the city of New Orleans. Tanker cars carrying a million or more gallons come through the heart of Virginia's capital-- Four to six times a week.

Pacific Union's major line goes through Arkansas-- eight to twelve trains a week. Just last week the government decided that all of this information we obtained will be secret again. Exempt from disclosure.

A record 52% of crude was delivered over the rails to east coast refineries in February. According to the US Energy Information Administration.

All four major freight railroads are moving this oil.

"Our number one concern is delivering every shipment of freight that we move safely to its intended destination, whether its crude oil or anything else," said CSX Spokesperson: Rob Doolittle.

CSX has a footprint across the northeast. The company says despite the boom-- it's bigger business still remains the movement of cars and manufactured goods. Crude oil makes up 2% of all its shipments.

"We understand communities concerns about the nature of the products we are moving," said Doolittle. "Which is why we invest more than a billion dollars a year in our infrastructure.

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