Repost from Transportation Today [Editor: I challenge Senators Feinstein and Harris (and Attorney General Becerra) to follow the lead of Senators Wyden and Merkley. These “positive train control” braking systems, or “electronically controlled pneumatic” (ECP) braking systems – were supposed to be in place nationwide long ago, but every time a deadline approached, the railroad lobby won a delay. Now they have Trump on their side. Some background in this 2015 CNN report, “Amtrak derailment: Could technology have prevented crash?”. – R.S.]
Lawmakers launch railway safety standards inquiry
BY DOUGLAS CLARK, OCTOBER 19, 2018
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) are seeking answers from two railway company’s regarding plans to ensure trains carrying hazardous material have updated braking systems.
To do so, the Oregon senators recently forwarded correspondence to Union Pacific and BNSF in the wake of the Trump Administration’s announcement to roll back an Obama-era rule requiring the installation of electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems by 2021. The legislators noted that the guideline was instituted after multiple oil train crashes across the United States, including one in the Columbia River Gorge.
“Too often our constituents in the Pacific Northwest have seen trains carrying crude oil crashing within and around their communities,” Wyden and Merkley wrote. “We have seen these trains crash near school buildings, small businesses, and homes, causing extensive damage to communities and putting our environment at risk, including sources of drinking water as well as river habitats that house endangered fish species.”
In their letter, the lawmakers inquired about how many of the railway companies’ trains carrying crude oil in Oregon and Washington have ECP brakes installed; the percentage of trains carrying crude oil through Oregon and Washington have ECP brakes; and whether the rule rollback impact purchasing of new railcars with ECP brakes.
The legislators maintain their constituents should be afforded security from potential railway transport dangers.
“Our constituents, many of whom live, work or go to school in the vicinity of rail lines that carry hazardous materials, need to know that their safety is being protected,” the legislators wrote.
Inslee statement on Trump administration’s decision to roll back crucial oil train safety regulation
September 25, 2018
“Today, the Trump administration repealed a crucial oil train safety regulation which will increase the risk posed by oil train derailments. We know all too well the horrific damage and potential loss of life that could result from the greater numbers of trains carrying crude oil through Washington and along the Columbia River. Today’s news signifies a reckless disregard for the life and property of all who live or work along the rail tracks that transport volatile Bakken crude oil.
“The Obama administration proposed thoughtful electronic braking system requirements that would help keep trains from speeding off the tracks. It is incomprehensible why this administration would pursue a biased cost-benefit analysis to make a case that this safety measure is too expensive and then dismiss such a common sense measure from further consideration. I fear the day we witness a destructive or deadly derailment that could have been prevented with readily available technology.
“This is yet one more example where this administration has abandoned its responsibility to protect our communities and left it to states to handle. We will continue to do all we can to ensure our communities are prepared and ready to respond, if necessary, and I will continue to lean on our federal partners to do the right thing and put the safety of our communities over the profits of the oil industry.”
Inslee has been advocating for stronger oil train safety measures for years. He issued a directive in 2014 directing various state agencies to conduct risk analyses and develop response plans in coordination with state and provincial partners, and has worked with legislators to implement additional inspection, safety and notification requirements. Inslee met with federal officials in June 2014 following a derailment in Mosier, Oregon, and sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation and wrote an op-ed in 2016 pleading with federal officials to pursue numerous actions, including phasing out outdated tank cars, requiring lower speeds in populated areas and implementing electronic braking requirements.
The Trump administration on Monday moved to roll back an Obama-era safety rule mandating that oil trains carrying crude oil install more sophisticated brakes.
The Department of Transportation’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said that it found the cost of installing electronically controlled pneumatic brake systems, which reduce the risk of car derailment, would be higher than the safety benefits it delivers.
This mimics claims from the railroad industry, which has said that installing electronic breaks on oil rail cars would cost $3 billion.
Around 20 derailments, including accidents with fatalities, have occurred since 2010, in part due to increased train traffic due to a boost in oil production. (Details at The Hill, Fortune, Buzzfeed.)