Rail Boom

Regulators scramble to rewrite rules as the nation's railways teem with crude oil

Twenty-one train cars slid off the tracks in New Augusta, Miss., on Jan. 31, nine of them spilling flammable cargo like crude oil, liquid fertilizer and methanol. Incredibly, none caught fire and no one was injured. "It was a miracle," says Brett Carr of the Mississippi emergency management agency.

Local officials weren't the only ones feeling lucky. In Washington, the risk posed by America's surge in oil rail freight has officials worried about a coming catastrophe and scrambling to impose new regulations to head it off. In 2013 the nation's railroads hauled about 400,000 railcars' worth of crude oil, largely from...

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