The DOT has issued several new regulations that don’t sit well with the rail industry
Companies that transport oil by rail face a variety of new rules ranging from lower train speeds to what kind of tank cars can be used in hauling hazardous or highly flammable materials.
The new rules issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation come in response to train derailments involving oil shipments, with the National Transportation Safety Board tallying more than 24 derailments involving crude oil trains in the past two years. The growth of the oil industry in North Dakota has led to an increase in oil products on the nation’s railways.
The first changes announced by the Department of Transportation in April included a 40 mph speed limit for any train carrying hazardous materials through urban areas. In addition, railroads need to provide detailed shipment information to authorities within 90 minutes after a derailment.
On May 1, the government announced new guidelines regarding the tank cars that carry petroleum products. After more than two years of study, the government settled on new standards for cars carrying oil and ethanol products that include thicker tank shells and improved thermal protection.
The oldest tank cars – called DOT-111 – will be replaced with jacketed CPC-1232s, a newer car with thicker shells, higher safety shields and better fire protection, within three years. The CPC-1232s without the extra protection – or jacket – will themselves be phased out within five years. All tank cars used to carry oil built after Oct. 1, 2015, will include all the new safety features.
In addition, the DOT called for installing new electronic braking systems on trains hauling more than 70 cars of crude oil by 2021. Electronically controlled pneumatic brakes (also known as ECPs) are more effective in preventing derailments and pile-ups than the brakes currently in use, the government says.
The railroad industry, however, is not convinced.
“The DOT couldn’t make a safety case for ECP but forged ahead anyway,” Edward R. Hamberger, the president and chief executive of the Association of American Railroads, said in a statement. “I have a hard time believing the determination to impose ECP brakes is anything but a rash rush to judgment.”
If the tank cars don’t have the new brakes by 2021, oil trains will only be able to be 69 tank cars long or travel less than 30 mph. In both cases, Hamberger says moving oil by rail won’t be cost-effective.
The new regulations also designate a new standard called high-hazard flammable trains, which is defined by the DOT as a “continuous block of 20 or more tank cars loaded with flammable liquid or 35 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid dispersed through the train.”
Pressure continues to mount on the rail industry, which is transporting more crude oil than ever. The DOT says in 2008, 9,500 cars carrying crude were transported in the United States compared to nearly 500,000 in 2014. The increase is tied directly to new drill sites in North Dakota, Canada and Pennsylvania.
Chet Thompson, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, said in a statement that the new rules don’t address the two main causes of derailment: track integrity and human error.
“Shipping crude by rail is extremely safe, and we will continue doing our part to make it even safer. But a holistic approach that takes into account track integrity and tougher requirements for the railroads would significantly lessen the likelihood of derailments,” he said.
Additional rules could be coming. In March, several U.S. senators introduced the Crude-By-Rail Safety Act of 2015 that requires the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to draft new rules to limit the volatility of gases in crude oil shipped via tank car. The bill has been assigned to the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
“As more and more volatile crude oil moves through Wisconsin and through our country via rail it is critical that appropriate safety measures are in place to reduce the risk of deadly accidents,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who is sponsoring the bill with her fellow Democratic senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington and Dianne Feinstein of California.