DoT’s New Safety Rules for Oil By Rail

Friday, May 1, 2015 @ 07:05 PM gHale

Following a series of train derailments and explosions, new regulations for transporting oil and other flammable liquids by rail ended up unveiled by the Department of Transportation (DoT) Friday.

The rule, from DoT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration, applies to “high-hazard flammable trains.” Those trains consist of a continuous row of 20 or more tank cars loaded with flammable liquids, or those carrying a total of 35 or more tank cars with flammable liquids.

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The rule sets a new standard for the construction of tank cars used to transport crude oil and a schedule for retrofitting older tanks. It also establishes new standards for brakes intended to reduce the risk of pileups in the event of an accident, and it changes requirements for routing, speed limits and what information must end up provided to local governments.

The Canadian government also on Friday released its own standards that align with the new U.S. rules.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the rule “a significant improvement over the current regulations and requirements” that will “make transporting flammable liquids safer.”

One of the senators who introduced legislation to improve safety in moving oil by rail said the revised regulations are far too weak.

“The new DoT rule is just like saying let the oil trains roll. It does nothing to address explosive volatility, very little to reduce the threat of rail car punctures, and is too slow on the removal of the most dangerous cars,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). “It’s more of a status quo rule than the real safety changes needed to protect the public and first responders.”

The advocacy group Public Citizen said in a statement the proposed Senate legislation is “the apex of what a regulatory response to the threat of oil train disasters should be.”

“A small step like today’s DoT rule does not do enough to address the real oil train safety crisis,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program.

The new regulations come after a series of derailments in the U.S. and Canada.

In February, a train derailed in West Virginia, sending fireballs into the sky and oil into a local waterway. The train was carrying North Dakota crude in newer-model tank cars designed to be more resilient in crashes. That derailment was just the latest in a series of rail accidents highlighting the risks of transporting crude, and came just two days after another in Ontario, Canada, that ignited seven rail cars.

A May 2014 accident in Lynchburg, VA — which sent train cars also bound for Yorktown into the James River — followed heavy rain.

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