Weak Oil-Train Regulations Don’t Go Nearly Far Enough
Above: A ‘bomb train’ protest in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, earlier this year. (Photo: Light Brigading)
Note: At the same time these inadequate regulations are being considered railways are pushing for single engineer train crews. BNSF Railway and the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union (SMART) would implement single engineer-
only operation of mainline freight trains on portions of the BNSF railway system. This is a very risky change in how trains are run at a time when they are carrying more dangerous loads. See: Move Toward Single Employee Train Crew Increases Risks.
Proposed rules prioritize industry over community and environmental safety
“Today the Obama administration announced weak new standards for high-hazard flammable trains that give the oil industry a license to threaten the safety of millions of Americans and leave communities and emergency responders holding the bag,” Matt Krogh, ForestEthics campaigner, said in a statement. ForestEthics was specifically calling for an “opt-out” choice, through which communities could say no to so-called ‘bomb trains’ in their towns.
The administration seems to have carefully calculated and managed the inconvenience of these rules to the oil industry, but they’ve severely underestimated the threat of these trains to the American public…The worst of these oil tanker cars are unsafe at any speed — they should be banned immediately, not years down the line. The maximum speed of these trains should be no faster than what a tanker car can safely contain without a spill or explosion after a derailment.
The DOT proposal would require old and dangerous tank cars be off the tracks starting in 2017. But more immediate action is warranted, said EarthJustice attorney Patti Goldman:
An immediate ban on shipping volatile crude in the DOT-111 tank cars is in order. That’s why we and our partners have called for an emergency ban of this type of outdated, accident-prone rail car. The public demands that the federal government crack down on automakers where there is a serious safety risk. We should do the same for the oil industry.
A report issued in May by Oil Change International described the “reckless expansion of crude-by-rail in North America” and indicated that oil-train capacity could grow to over five times current levels by 2016.
Ron Wyden, Democratic U.S. Senator from Oregon — where the amount of oil hauled by rail increased last year by 250 percent — said in a statement that the DOT’s notification requirement falls short. As proposed, the rule would require only trains containing one million gallons of Bakken crude oil to notify State Emergency Response Commissions about crude oil barreling through their state.
“The failure to broaden notification requirements is especially baffling since the DOT’s proposal would classify all oil and ethanol shipments as ‘high-hazard flammable trains,’ yet would only require railroads to provide advance notification to first responders when that oil originates in the Bakken,” Wyden said.