‘Get them off rails now,’ Four US Senators say of some oil tank cars

Repost from McClatchy News
[Editor:  Thank you to co-sponsors of Sen. Cantwell’s bill: Senators Patty Murray of Washington, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Dianne Feinstein of California, all Democrats.  See also: the Cantwell press release (including a video), and the text of the legislation.  – RS]

‘Get them off rails now,’ Sen. Cantwell says of some oil tank cars

By Curtis Tate, March 25, 2015
A DOT-111A tank car rolls past the Amtrak platform at Newark, Del., on July 28, 2013. CURTIS TATE — MCT

WASHINGTON — Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., introduced legislation on Wednesday that would immediately ban the least sturdy tank cars from carrying crude oil after a series of recent fiery train derailments.

The bill also would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to regulate the volatility of crude oil transported by rail, particularly oil extracted from shale formations in North Dakota’s Bakken region.

Cantwell’s bill follows four recent derailments in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario that have drawn new scrutiny to the large volumes of oil moving by rail across North America.

The White House Office of Management and Budget is reviewing new regulations intended to address the safety concerns, but Cantwell told reporters Wednesday that the changes couldn’t wait.

“We know that we need to move on this legislation now,” she said. “Derailments keep happening, and we need to take responsibility to ensure that our communities are safer.”

Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Dianne Feinstein of California, all Democrats, are co-sponsoring Cantwell’s bill.

In addition to addressing tank cars and volatility, the legislation also would increase penalties for rail and energy companies that don’t meet federal safety requirements.

The bill would authorize funding to train emergency responders and require railroads to provide more information about oil shipments to state and local emergency officials. It also would require railroads to have comprehensive oil spill response plans.

The measure aims to remove from crude oil service the kinds of tank cars that have proved vulnerable to punctures and fire exposure in a series of derailments over the past two years.

Those include the older DOT-111 cars involved in a July 2013 derailment in Quebec that killed 47 people, as well as newer, industry-designed CPC-1232 cars involved in the most recent four derailments.

All lack thermal insulation and outer jackets to better protect the cars in derailments, and Cantwell’s bill would require tank cars carrying oil have those features.

“There are a bunch of tank cars that are unacceptable now,” she said. “So we’re saying get them off the rails, now.”

Cantwell noted that the rail industry asked the Transportation Department for an improved tank car design four years ago and that her bill would help give the industry some certainty.

“I’m willing to tell them right now: Here’s the standard that I think should be set,” she said.