Senate appropriations bill takes on safety of shipping oil by rail

Repost from TribLIVE, Pittsburgh, PA

Safety of shipping oil by rail addressed in appropriations bill

By Jodi Weigand, Dec. 17, 2014

Provisions pushed by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey to improve the safety of crude oil shipments are included in the final version of the appropriations bill that will fund the federal government for the next nine months.

Casey began pushing for more money for rail safety after three train derailments in the state this year, including one in Vandergrift in February.

“This program was not included in the original House bill, so it needed a strong push from the Senate (and) Casey to make it in the final package,” said Casey’s spokesman John Rizzo.

The $54 billion in appropriations for transportation, housing and urban development includes funding for 15 new rail and hazardous material inspectors. It also calls for $3 million to expand the use of automated track inspections for 14,000 miles of track and $1 million to pay for online training for first responders on how to handle train derailments.

The Senate on Saturday approved the 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Bill that the House narrowly passed Thursday.

Casey’s bill requires the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to finalize regulatory action to change tank car design standards by Jan. 15. The PHMSA began the changes in September 2013.

Among the new requirements is that newly manufactured and existing tank cars that are used to haul crude oil have puncture resistance systems and protection for hatches and valves that exceed the existing design requirements for the DOT-111 tankers, an old-style variety that critics say are too flimsy.

In the event that there is a trail derailment that involves a crude oil spill, new funding will ensure that first responders have better training on how to handle it.

The money in the bill for a web-based hazardous materials emergency response training curriculum will help ensure that communities that lack the resources to send their first responders to training sites can still access education to contain oil spills and prevent danger to people and communities.

“Funding will also be used to expedite implementation of a remote automated track inspection capability to increase inspection mileage at a reduced cost,” Rizzo said. “There is too much track for manual inspections to cover it all.”

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, said she’s pleased the bill would mandate comprehensive oil spill response plans for railroads and provide funding focusing on providing safety training.

“I worked to set a deadline for the Department of Transportation to issue new safety standards for tank cars next month and worked to protect smaller communities without sufficient resources to respond to oil trains,” Murray said.

A federal investigation into the Feb. 13 derailment and oil spill in Vandergrift determined that “widening,” or spreading of the rails on that section track, was the probable cause.

The report said that speed did not cause the derailment. However, two railroad experts said it was a contributing factor because speed could have caused track problems on the curve.