WASHINGTON – Oil train operators must have detailed information on hand about the possible risks of their cargo in case of an accident and perform more thorough checks before moving on the tracks, U.S. transportation officials said on Friday.
U.S. officials have been wrestling with how to make oil train deliveries safer ever since a runaway shipment derailed in Lac Megantic, Canada, in 2013 and killed 47 people. In March there was an oil train accident in Galena, Illinois, although it did not lead to an injury.
A national oil train safety plan is due in coming weeks that will demand tougher tank cars and other improvements.
New measures announced Friday are meant to reduce the chance that a routine train mishap would lead to the kind of fiery explosion that followed several other oil train accidents, officials said.
The measures were announced jointly by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (Phmsa).
Some observers said the measures may be so difficult to enforce that they do little to improve safety. Ed Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads, said rail operators did not have access to details about oil train cargo that the FRA was seeking.
Karen Darch, mayor of Barrington, Illinois, and an oil train safety advocate, said the latest moves seemed only likely to create more paperwork.
“We don’t need better record-keeping after an accident,” she said. “We need real measures to prevent them.”
The FRA on Friday asked shippers to account for who handled crude oil involved in any mishap and what the operator knew about the possible volatility of the cargo.
Rail operators must also do more to find flawed tanker wheels and quickly have them replaced, the FRA said.
Early analysis indicates that a defective wheel contributed to last month’s oil train derailment and fire in Galena, according to the FRA.
Joe Szabo, a former head of FRA who stepped down in January, said officials had made strides in reducing human error and the dangers of defective track, but it was important to look for faults in the trains themselves.
“Equipment failures are less common, but given the potential consequences even the lower-probability risks need additional scrutiny at this point,” he said.
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