Professors Says Merged Rail Line Likely Increases Chances for Oil Spills

(Radio Iowa) A Ivy League professor is warning a proposed railroad merger that would increase train traffic through parts of eastern Iowa poses an environmental threat. Canadian Pacific is asking federal officials to approve its acquisition of Kansas City Southern Railway. It would establish a rail line that stretches from Canada to Mexico. Mike Hepler is an engineering professor at Princeton.

“This rail is likely to carry a lot, an increased number of holding tar sands oils and bitumen,” Hepler says. “And again, these are going to be moving through the towns that carry risks to health, the environment.” Tar sands are a combination of sand, clay, water and bitumen. Bitumen is the
black oil that’s sticky, like molasses. Hepler says derailments and spills are likely to increase as train traffic increases.

“Given a spark, given a flame — a fire source, this also presents an issue for air quality,” Hepler says, “and the quality for the environment, the soil, the waters that surround the trains.” The initial environmental assessment from the Surface Transportation Board concludes there is a small risk increased train traffic would lead to derailments and hazardous material spills along the proposed Canadian Pacific-Kansas City Southern route. Hepler says it’s strange that the agency considers noise to be the major environmental impact of increased train traffic. Hepler made his comments during a recent public hearing about the merger.