Feds Back Train Speed Limits and Tougher Rail Tank Cars

By Jim Snyder and Thomas Black | July 23, 2014

The Obama administration plans to propose train speed limits and studier rail tank cars as part of a set of new rules designed to reduce the risks of hauling crude oil, two people familiar with the plan said.

The draft proposal, which is in response to a series of fiery accidents, will require improved braking systems as well as testing of crude oil before being loaded, the two people said. It’s expected to apply to shipments of corn-based ethanol as well as crude oil, said another person. All of the people asked not to be identified because the details aren’t public.

The regulations are designed to update standards to account for an increase in the use of trains to carry flammable liquids, particularly crude oil from places like North Dakota’s Bakken field where production is soaring beyond the capacity of pipelines. U.S. carloads of oil jumped to 408,000 last year from 11,000 in 2009.

Safety advocates and local officials from communities near where the oil trains pass have pushed regulators for months to update rules in response to a series of accidents, including a derailment in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, in April that caused a train to catch fire and dump oil into the James River.

The worst of those accidents happened just over a year ago when an unattended train rolled downhill, derailing in Lac- Megantic, Quebec, and creating an explosion that killed 47 people.

Oil Boom

Regulators have said they will seek to balance safety with the benefits of the U.S. energy boom. Oil production is the highest in nearly three decades, helping stabilize global energy prices and creating thousands of jobs in the U.S. The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days, according to two of the people familiar with the plan.

Ryan Daniels, a spokesman for the U.S. Transportation Department, declined to comment on the rule.

Railroads have argued against new operational requirements that could create costly bottlenecks on rail lines, lobbying instead for the production of sturdier tank cars and an aggressive replacement of the existing fleet of older DOT-111 models that are vulnerable to rupture.
The Wall Street Journal earlier reported the planned safety rules.

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