Preventing fiery derailments: U. of Iowa Professor weighs in - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Preventing fiery derailments: U. of Iowa Professor weighs in

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) - Huge flames followed after a train carrying crude oil derails in Illinois.

"If you take really flammable stuff and then you keep sending a lot of it, any accident you have looks terrible," said Albert Ratner, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering  at the University of Iowa.

It comes just one month after a derailment and fire in Dubuque County -- that one involving ethanol.

"If you start looking around the country it's been like one a week," said Ratner. "If not more than that."

Ratner studies how things burn and works on fire safety -- how to prevent these kinds of fires from happening.

"The real improvement is to take the really, really flammable stuff and take it out of the train cars with the oil," said Ratner.

Taking the "really flammable stuff out" is called "stabilizing the oil." It's done in states like Texas where the oil industry has been around for years. They use a pipeline to transport the flammable stuff. That's not done in North Dakota where the train burning in Illinois originated from.

"You get basically separating equipment," said Ratner. "You kind of cook it. The light stuff boils off. It goes one way. The heavy stuff, which looks kind of like tar, which you think as crude oil, you can put in the rail cars and then its quite safe."

Think of stabilizing the oil like this. It's like the airbag in your car. It doesn't prevent you from crashing but it helps you when it happens. Stabilizing oil won't prevent the derailments but will prevent the large fires.

Ratner says that the oil industry in North Dakota has been having conversations about stabilizing oil and may begin the process in another month or two.


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