Repost from Politico
Documents: Railroads want to hit brakes on some oil train safeguardsBy KATHRYN A. WOLFE | 6/13/14 5:08 AM EDT
The railroad industry is warning the White House against some potential safety rules for trains carrying explosive crude oil, saying freight and passenger rail traffic could be disrupted for years if companies must obey 30 mph speed limits, install more sophisticated brakes and keep the trains manned at all times.
The arguments, contained in documents posted after a meeting this week between railroad officials and the Office of Management and Budget, also offer a preview of what steps the Obama administration may be considering in response to oil train crashes that have struck the U.S. and Canada in the past year. Those include a disastrous July 6 explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, after an engineer left a train packed with North Dakota crude oil parked on a steep incline with brakes that may not have been properly set.
The Department of Transportation declined to comment on the documents. DOT submitted a draft rule proposal to OMB in April but has offered no details about what’s in it.
Companies represented at Tuesday’s OMB meeting included the four major freight railroads — BNSF, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern and CSX — as well as other industry groups and Amtrak, according to White House records.
While Amtrak doesn’t haul crude oil, a BNSF handout arguing against lower speed limits said the passenger rail’s travel schedules on one 1,815-mile route could be lengthened by two hours if oil trains’ top speeds are lowered to 30 mph from 50 mph. That route stretches between Aurora, Ill., and Spokane, Wash., which BNSF called its primary route for crude oil.
Slowdowns would cause “severe” impacts for the railroad’s operations, including both oil and grain shipments, BNSF said in the handout, calculating six-hour delays for freight trains along the same route. All told, the railroad said it would have to spend $2.8 billion to rebuild its lost shipping capacity during the next four years, while facing $630 million in additional annual expenses such as additional crew wages and lost productivity.
The Association of American Railroads, the freight railroad industry’s main trade group, offered a similar document on the speed limit issue.
None of the documents address the main issue people are expecting the DOT rule to address: increased safety requirements for the tanker cars that carry the oil.
Oil train traffic across the U.S. has increased 40-fold since 2008 because of booming production in places like North Dakota and western Canada. It’s also become an increasingly contentious issue for communities from California and Washington state to Albany, N.Y., and Lynchburg, Va.
The documents may not accurately reflect DOT’s undisclosed draft — the railroads may have been blindly making a case for what they don’t want to see happen. But they reveal that industry insiders have given thought to potential regulations that would go much further than the mostly voluntary measures DOT has imposed so far.
Earlier this year, DOT announced that railroads had voluntarily agreed to restrict some oil trains to 40 mph in certain populous areas.
But lowering the speed limit to 30 mph would harm “delivery capability” for BNSF’s oil customers, the railroad said in the document. To keep up with demand, it said, it would have to add an additional 11,280 tank cars to its crude oil fleet.
In the other documents posted on OMB’s website:
— A handout from CSX argues against requiring electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems, saying the technology is “expensive and only works if the entire train is equipped.” The company says the brakes would have “limited use and minimal safety impact.”
As part of an existing voluntary agreement between the industry and DOT, railroads agreed to equip all trains pulling 20 or more carloads of crude oil with other types of advanced braking systems — either distributed power or two-way telemetry end-of-train devices.
— And a final handout, whose authorship is unclear, argues against requiring that crude oil trains never be left unattended. It says “attending crude oil trains from origin to destination will increase congestion, require additional handling, and significantly drive up costs,” including $96 per hour for a two-person crew.
It also says that “appropriate securement and security measures are already in place to ensure safe movement of crude oil shipments.”