The federal government predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades.
The projection was contained in a Department of Transportation analysis from last July. It says the derailments could cause more than $4 billion in damage and possibly kill hundreds of people if a serious accident were to happen in a densely populated part of the U.S.
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The study took on new relevance this week after a train loaded with oil derailed in West Virginia, causing a spectacular fire and forcing hundreds of families to evacuate.
Monday's accident was the latest in a spate of fiery derailments. Senior federal officials say it underscores the need for stronger tank cars and other safety improvements.