Oil Trains in Indiana and Illinois: How Big is the Danger to Railroad Workers?

Oil Trains in Indiana and Illinois: How Big is the Danger to Railroad Workers?

A week ago today, there was a huge explosion a little bit south of Galena, Illinois, that was caused when a big BNSF train rolling 103 crude oil tank cars through the Illinois countryside blew up. Photos show the flames reaching as high of 300 feet into the air.

Twenty-one (21) cars went off the rails in this crash.  Each of these tanker cars carried 70,000 gallons of crude oil.  That is a LOT of flammable liquid.

Luckily, there were no fatalities. The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating the train crash.

It was the third oil train crash in three weeks here in the United States. It is also reported that this Galena crash involved the “safer tanker cars” that were supposed to be less likely to catch on fire.

Railroad Workers Risk of Injury or Death While Working on the Job

According to the railroad company’s news statement, this particular track carries up to 50 oil trains each week through the Illinois countryside. Which means that railroad workers are dealing with lots and lots of flammable crude oil riding along the rails of Illinois and Indiana as part of their daily work.

In January, we considered the dangers of these big oil trains moving through our area. Our infrastructure (the rails, the trains themselves, the road crossings, etc.) has not been maintained and things have not been replaced. Things are old, weak, and prone to failure.

It’s no wonder that there was a derailment in Galena. What is amazing is that there aren’t more train crashes here with these huge, long, heavy oil trains moving through here — and that there haven’t been more people seriously injured or killed as a result of these oil cars catching on fire.


In Illinois and Indiana, it has been an honored tradition for people to work the rails.  

Railroads have been moving people and cargo through our part of the country for hundreds of years, and those who keep those trains running here are justifiably proud of the work that they do and the service they provide to their families, their communities, and to all of us here in this part of the country.

It’s a risky business, of course.  The dangers are so real and so serious that people who work on the railroads have special protections under federal law. There are statutes on the books that provide them with special care and treatment in the event of a rail worker being hurt on the job. This is different from workers’ compensation laws.

People who work on railroads are protected by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). This is special legal protection for rail workers injured on the job. FELA provides coverage to railroad company employees who are hurt in accidents as well as on the job injuries caused by a variety of things, including:

  • hazardous conditions on their worksite
  • hazardous materials that cause injury
  • inadequate safety precautions
  • Inadequate safety measures
  • equipment failure
  • equipment malfunction
  • inadequate supervision
  • improper supervision
  • Mistakes and human error.

The problem for railroad workers is that federal safety laws are only as good as their enforcement and our railroad system is notorious for not being monitored well by federal regulatory agencies. No wonder that we’re seeing more and more train derailments involving these dangerous crude oil tanker cars.

Hopefully, state and federal regulators are going to take action to protect railroad workers, as well as the general public, from the high risk oil trains that are moving through our communities and bringing danger to neighborhoods all around us.

However, at the present time, the danger is high for everyone and railroad workers are in danger on the job here. We can expect more and more railroad worker injury claims based upon injuries sustained due to crude oil trains in the future.


On March 7, 2015, the railroad company that owned the Galena oil train issued the following update:

Update on Incident in Galena, Ill.

BNSF MEDIA STATEMENT as of March 7, 2015 at 11:00 am CST – Galena, IL derailment

Work to remove the derailed cars at the site of the BNSF Railway derailment, which occurred in a rural area south of Galena, Ill., is nearing completion. Due to its remote location and soft ground in the area, a temporary road is being built to allow heavy equipment to re-rail cars and remove crude oil from the scene. Additionally, the three small remaining fires will be extinguished by a foam truck once the temporary road is complete. Of the 21 cars that were derailed, six cars have been re-railed. Two more cars are expected to be re-railed later today. The remaining cars will be removed from the scene via truck.

Once the scene is cleared, BNSF currently anticipates that its mainline track can be operational on Monday, March 9, 2015. As the clean-up process proceeds, BNSF continues to find no evidence of oil in the nearby waterways due to the derailment. Air quality monitoring is also continuing.

The cause of the derailment is still under investigation. BNSF Railway employees continue to assist local and federal officials.

Protection of the communities we serve, the safety of our employees and protection of the environment are our highest priorities. These priorities have guided us throughout our response to this event.

We are extremely grateful for the efforts of the first responders at this incident and the coordination and cooperation offered by local officials to keep the community safe. BNSF Railway sincerely regrets the inconvenience this event has caused to the community.

BNSF has established a claims center at the site of the incident to help and assist local residents who may have incurred damage to their property or are in need of temporary relocation.

With the scene mostly contained, BNSF does not anticipate the need to offer any additional updates.

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