List of 13 links: recent widespread criticism of the new DOT rail safety rules

By Roger Straw, Editor, The Benicia Independent, May 29, 2015

It’s been a month now, and the hot news cycle has cooled off some on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s May 1 announcement of new safety rules governing rail transport of hazardous materials.

A recent local news story detailed the DOT rules without even mentioning the widespread criticisms of the new regulations.  The rules have come under heavy fire from legislators, health professionals, firefighters, emergency responders, environmentalists and communities where these trains are already running – and sometimes derailing.

What follows is a handy list of stories carried previously here on the Benicia Independent, all highly doubtful that the new safety regulations will bring a timely end to the horrific crashes and explosions we’ve seen in recent months and years.

  1. NY Times: U.S. Sets New Rules for Oil Trains – Sen. Schumer: DOT gave railroads too much time to remove unsafe cars
  2. New oil-train safety rules will put public back in the dark
  3. New rules for crude-by-rail transport fall short
  4. Senator Cantwell: “The new DOT rule is just like saying let the oil trains roll. It does nothing…”
  5. Expert comments on new DOT rules – Dr. Fred Millar
  6. New rules for rail tankers face years of debate, delay
  7. ForestEthics: Oil Trains Too Fast, New Safety Rules Too Slow
  8. 300 doctors call for denial of oil terminal permits
  9. New rules on oil trains draw flak from firefighters, too
  10. Groups Sue Obama Administration Over Weak Tank Car Standards
  11. NYU Institute for Policy Integrity: New oil train safety rules spell delay, leaving citizens at risk
  12. Riverkeeper sues U.S. DOT over oil train safety rules
  13. Benicia Herald covers Valero environmental delay

On a more encouraging note, see Responding to criticism, Feds won’t weaken oil-train public disclosure rules .

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Responding to criticism, Feds won’t weaken oil-train public disclosure rules

Repost from the Philadelphia Inquirer

Feds won’t weaken oil-train public disclosure rules

By Paul Nussbaum, Inquirer Staff Writer, May 29, 2015, 5:20 PM
An oil train passes through Philadelphia on April 15, 2015. (Jon Snyder/Daily News)

An oil train passes through Philadelphia on April 15, 2015. (Jon Snyder/Daily News)

Responding to Congressional and public criticism, federal regulators said Friday they will not weaken rules requiring certain disclosures about trains transporting crude oil and other hazardous materials.

The Inquirer reported this week that new oil-train rules issued May 7 by the U.S. Department of Transportation would end a 2014 requirement for railroads to share information about large volumes of crude oil with state emergency-response commissions.

Instead, railroads were to share information directly with some emergency responders, but the information would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and state public records laws.

“Under this approach,” the new rule said, “the transportation of crude oil by rail . . . can avoid the negative security and business implications of widespread public disclosure of routing and volume data…”

But the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, an arm of the transportation department, said Friday it will not make the change.

Instead, the existing rule “will remain in full force and effect until further notice while the agency considers options for codifying the May 2014 disclosure requirement on a permanent basis,” the agency said.

Saying that “transparency is a critical piece of the federal government’s comprehensive approach to safety,” the agency said it supports “the public disclosure of this information to the extent allowed by applicable state, local, and tribal laws.”

U.S. Sen. Robert Casey (D., Pa.) was one of nine senators who asked the agency to keep the existing rule in place.

Casey said Friday he was “pleased” by the agency’s decision.

“First responders who risk their lives when trains derail deserve to know what chemicals they could be dealing with when they get to the scene,” Casey said in a statement.

The disclosure rules about train routes and general numbers of trains apply to all trains carrying 1 million gallons or more of crude oil from the Baaken oil deposit in North Dakota.

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Two-person train crews necessary for safety, lawmakers say

Repost from Lincoln Journal Star

Two-person train crews necessary for safety, lawmakers say

By Zach Pluhacek | Lincoln Journal Star, May 28, 2015 1:45 pm

A BNSF Railway locomotive pulls cars of coal through Lincoln in January. FRANCIS GARDLER/Journal Star file photo

Trains need two-person crews to help prevent disasters like the 2013 derailment and explosion of a crude oil train that killed 47 people in Quebec, some Nebraska lawmakers argued Thursday.

The Federal Railroad Administration has signaled plans to require two-man crews on trains carrying oil and freight trains, which is the industry’s standard practice, but its proposed rule hasn’t been issued.

Rail lines would like to switch to a crew of one on most freight engines as they equip trains with positive train control, a new federally mandated wireless safety system that can force a train to stop automatically to avoid a potential crash.

“This is a risky development for public safety in Nebraska, particularly in light of the hazardous types of freight that are being hauled through our state,” said Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis on Thursday.

Nebraska is home to the nation’s two biggest railroads, Union Pacific, based in Omaha, and BNSF Railway, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway in Omaha. UP operates the world’s largest railroad classification yard, the Bailey Yard in North Platte, and BNSF has extensive operations in Lincoln and the rest of Nebraska.

Davis sponsored a measure (LB192) this year that would have outright required two-person crews in Nebraska, but it failed to advance from the Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

Instead, lawmakers passed a nonbinding resolution Thursday that doesn’t specifically call for two-person crews, but it urges the Federal Railroad Administration to adopt a rule that “ensures public safety and promotes the efficient movement of freight, while supporting interstate commerce.”

The resolution (LR338) was adopted on a 36-4 vote.

“These trains are some of the heaviest moving things on this planet, and just having one person in charge doesn’t seem to make sense,” said Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, who cosigned the resolution.

But Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill argued human mistakes are often to blame when tragedy strikes. “Sometimes true safety does lie within automation,” he said.

Union Pacific opposes the resolution because it falsely implies trains are unsafe and ignores collective bargaining deals that have addressed safe train crew sizes for decades, said spokesman Mark Davis.

Two rail unions —  the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, which represent about 3,700 active members between them — support the resolution.

Cutting down on the number of crew members would almost certainly affect jobs and reduce the number of workers paying into shared retirement plans.

The more critical issue is what happens when a train derails or breaks down, said Pat Pfeifer, state legislative board chairman for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

One crew member has to remain inside the engine at all times, so without a second person, there’s no one available on scene to help cut a crossing or take other emergency precautions.

Both unions are also backing a bill in Congress to require two-person crews.

“It’s about public safety; it’s not about jobs,” Pfeifer said.

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