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Improved oil tanker cars aren't safe enough

Survey crews in boats look over tanker cars

Survey crews in boats look over tanker cars as workers remove damaged tanker cars along the tracks where several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, May 1, 2014. Virginia state officials were still trying Thursday to determine the environmental impact of the train derailment. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) Credit: AP

Derailments of trains carrying crude oil in new and improved tanker cars that ruptured and burned make it clear that new and improved is still not good enough.

Six cars left the tracks in Illinois March 5, and two burst into flames. Last month, nearly two dozen cars derailed, ruptured and burned in West Virginia. Both trains were carrying crude in cars the rail industry has voluntarily upgraded with thicker walls and improved valves. The U.S. Department of Transportation would mandate similar improvements in rules to be finalized in May. Those changes now seem dangerously inadequate. Car walls should be even stronger and crude from shale may need to be treated to make it less combustible. New rules, slow in coming, will be worth the wait only if they ensure fewer trains crash and burn.