(NTSB photo)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – Inspectors have found almost 24,000 safety defects over the past two years along U.S. railroad routes used to ship volatile crude oil. Data obtained by The Associated Press shows many of the defects were similar to problems blamed in past derailments that caused massive fires or oil spills in several states — including the one in Lynchburg in April of 2014. The safety gaps were discovered during targeted federal inspections on almost 58,000 miles of oil train routes in 44 states. The program began two years ago following a string of oil train accidents across North America, including a 2013 derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people. The inspections resulted in 1,118 recommended violations. Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Marc Willis says the targeted inspections have improved safety by making railroads more responsive to concerns raised by agency officials.