The latest fireball erupted alongside the parking lot of a children’s museum in Lynchburg, Va., a near worst-case scenario for the feds scrambling to get a handle on the nation’s new danger: oil tankers that detonate like bombs when they slide from the tracks.
America’s rails are teeming with black gold these days, and as accidents from Canada to Alabama have shown, this new cargo, largely from the Bakken reserves of North Dakota, has an alarming tendency to ignite. Most of it is carried in tank cars that have been deemed unsafe for the task, and federal rulemaking that will mandate changes is months from completion. In the meantime, railroads have adopted some voluntary measures, like reducing speeds and rerouting trains from urban areas, while the oil industry has cautioned against any new rules that impose too high a cost on the booming sector.
Luckily, no one was hurt in the April 30 Virginia accident; the museum was evacuated safely and is open for business. But for the millions of Americans who live and work near the nation’s tracks, the danger remains.
This appears in the June 02, 2014 issue of TIME.