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But emergency officials are increasingly wary of major accidents involving oil trains, which carry far more cargo than some other hazardous-material trains.
While oil is not as volatile as some other products, a rupture of just one car can spill 20,000 to 30,000 gallons, said Sheldon Lustig, a rail expert who consults with local governments on accidents and hazardous materials.
Recognizing the risks, Houston-based Musket Corp., an operator of oil train terminals in North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Oklahoma, has donated spill equipment and provided training to fire officials.
"You want to be a good steward in that community," said Musket managing director JP Fjeld-Hansen.
Federal Railroad Administration officials said they have coordinated hazardous-material training seminars and sought more law enforcement patrols for rail crossings to increase safety.
Federal law requires railroads to select hazardous-material routes after analyzing the potential for accidents in heavily populated areas and environmentally sensitive spots. Those analyses are confidential for security reasons.
Lustig said the railroads have considerable sway over the process.
"Under federal guidelines, the railroad makes the analysis, the railroad decides what they want to do, and the railroad does it," he said. "There is no public accountability."
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