For a short family holiday, I rode Amtrak from Seattle to Portland and back the weekend of May 10-11. As we were leaving Seattle, I pointed out a very long oil train to my 9 year old son, and told him about recent accidents elsewhere. Moving on down the tracks, my son soon exclaimed loudly “look dad, there’s another exploding death train,” using my not very polite term. He repeated that phrase each time he saw an oil train, enjoying it as only a young boy could.
By the time we completed our round trip, I believe we saw 8 or 9 long oil trains and several other trains with some cars that might have contained oil. Sometimes I could not read the safety placards to be sure they were oil trains.
I was struck by the number of oil trains we saw, and by the scary thundering feeling of passing an oil train on an adjacent track going the opposite direction, at a relative speed of what seemed like more than 100mph. All along the route we saw our vulnerability to accidents, waterways waiting to be polluted by a spill, and people and houses near the tracks at severe risk in the case of an explosion or fire.
This trip made exploding death trains into a very tangible risk, instead of the more abstract risk I felt after reading about oil trains and accidents. I recommend a train trip to anyone that spends any time thinking about oil, safety and our environment. You may find, as I did, that the risks suddenly feel more personal.