Best Gadfly

Judy Studebaker

One year ago a freight train carrying Bakken formation crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic in Quebec, Canada. More than 40 people died. A year before that, Judy Studebaker noticed a change behind her Holly Hills house. The trains that ran infrequently there for years had started to pick up, sending long lines of black tankers past her home several times a day. It turns out the trains that roll close to Studebaker's south-city neighborhood — and through many other St. Louis communities — carry the same crude oil that destroyed the town of Lac-Mégantic with a mile-long bomb. Few believed Studebaker when she first raised the alarm about the highly explosive, extremely dangerous trains until Dennis Jenkerson, chief of the St. Louis Fire Department, joined her fight. Fearful of tragic consequences from a crude-oil train accident, Jenkerson pushed for months to get training and equipment for his firefighters in case of an explosion or crash. Jenkerson announced a small victory in June: Tankers filled with crude oil won't run through St. Louis anymore, but tankers with trace elements, which neighbors say are still dangerous, will continue to pass through town. Studebaker and those joining her fight say they won't rest until they're sure our neighborhoods are safe.

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