Jerry Zremski | Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration today proposed phasing out the outdated and explosion-prone rail tank cars that carry volatile crude oil through Western New York as many as 35 times a week.
Under a proposed rule issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation, those DOT-111 tank cars would be barred from shipping most crude oil from North Dakota’s oil-rich Bakken Shale within two years unless they are retrofitted to new safety standards.
In addition, the proposed rule requires better braking systems on those trains and offers three options for limiting the speed of such trains to 40 mph in places where an explosion could do the most damage.
“While we have made unprecedented progress through voluntary agreements and emergency orders, today’s proposal represents our most significant progress yet in developing and enforcing new rules to ensure that all flammable liquids, including Bakken crude and ethanol, are transported safely,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who announced the new rules.
The proposed regulations come after a string of accidents involving the DOT-111 rail cars carrying crude oil, including a derailment in Cheektowaga last December and a devastating crash that destroyed the downtown of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, claiming 42 lives, a year ago.
New York State reported last week that upwards of 44 such “oil trains” cross the state every week, carrying crude in tank cars that are not armored or pressurized and therefore not designed to be carrying flammable liquids. That includes between 20 and 35 CSX Transportation oil trains that enter the state in Chautauqua County before moving north through Erie County and then eastward toward the Port of Albany.
The federal proposal would bar the use of the older DOT-111 tank cars for shipping oil a year quicker than a similar rule proposed in Canada would.
Under the U.S. rule, within two years of the rule’s approval, “Group 1 flammable liquids” — such as Bakken crude and ethanol — could not be shipped in those older tank cars unless the cars are retrofitted to have a thicker casing and rollover protection, among other safeguards. The proposed rule also requires oil trains to install state-of-the-art braking systems.
In addition, the rule seeks public comment on the possibility of limiting the speed of oil trains to 40 mph either in all areas, in areas with a population of more than 100,000 or in “high-threat urban areas.”
Along with announcing the new rule, DOT released the findings of a study of Bakken crude that served as another argument for the tougher train safety standards.
“The data show that crude oil from the Bakken region in North Dakota tends to be more volatile and flammable than other crude oils,” DOT said.
Release of the proposed rule marks the opening of a 60-day public comment period. DOT said it does not plan to extend that comment period, as often happens, because it wants to enact the new rules as soon as possible.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who has led the push for tougher rules on the outdated oil train cars, said he was pleased by the Department of Transportation’s proposal.
“Safety is job number one and the DOT should be commended for heeding our call and including a package of common sense safety measures — like speed limits, new braking controls, and standards for a safer tank car — that will further safeguard communities along freight lines,” Schumer said. “These safety rules should be finalized, implemented, and enforced as soon as possible.”