The explosion of an oil freight train Saturday in a small Quebec town has claimed the lives of 20 people, 30 others are missing, and criminal and government investigations have been launched.

Available to discuss railroad safety, the use of rail for oil transportation, and Illinois' railroads is Ning Ai, UIC assistant professor of urban planning and policy. She says the accident's ecological impact may be revealed only years after the accident and could prove to be cost prohibitive to remediate, if reversible at all.

"Environmental concerns about oil transport by rail does not mean proposed pipelines, such as Keystone Pipeline XL, should be favored," says Ai, who is a scholar of the environmental impact of rail transportation. "Pipeline projects, which typically are routed through remote and pristine land areas to minimize impact on people, still create potential environmental risks, including water contamination and biodiversity loss."

When local and renewable energy still falls short of demand and transportation is required, using rail to transport oil remains a reasonable short-term solution, according to Ai, who also has appointments with UIC's Institute for Environmental Science and Policy and UIC's Urban Transportation Center.

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