Cantwell Proposes Bill to Fast-Track Oil Train Safety Standards

By:  McClatchy Washington Bureau - Curtis Tate
Source: McClatchyDC

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said Tuesday that she would introduce legislation to speed up the approval of new regulations to improve oil train safety.

Calling the issue of “utmost importance,” Cantwell announced her intentions to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who testified Tuesday in a hearing in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

“We are not moving fast enough,” she told Foxx, whose department sent its proposed regulations to the White House for review on Jan. 30. “I look forward to seeing your rule but we are going to come out with tougher standards.”

Cantwell’s proposal is in development but is expected to require a shorter timetable for phasing out current-model tank cars and replacing or refitting them to meet more robust requirements. It is also expected to beef up training for emergency responders and require more disclosure from railroads about hazardous shipments.

The Department of Transportation’s final rule is scheduled for publication on May 12, but Cantwell and other lawmakers have expressed impatience at the timing. Though Foxx wouldn’t commit to a tighter deadline, he said his department is working closely with the Office of Management and Budget to get the rule finished as quickly as possible.

“It is an issue that we take very seriously at the Department of Transportation,” Foxx told Cantwell. “I can tell you there is a high level of urgency on it.”

The level of urgency has increased in just the past month, as one train carrying ethanol and two trains carrying crude oil derailed, spilled their cargo and ignited fires that emergency response teams simply had to let burn out.

One of those derailments took place in Mount Carbon, W.Va., on Feb. 16. Twenty-eight cars of a 109-car CSX oil train went off the tracks and 19 caught fire. Several exploded into massive fireballs, and though more than 100 residents were kept out of their homes for four days, no one was seriously injured.

“It could have been absolutely devastating to a community if it happened a mile down the tracks,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who toured the derailment site and, like Cantwell, urged the quick adoption of new tank cars.

All three of the most recent derailments involved the commonplace DOT-111 tank car or an industry-built version that marginally exceeds current federal requirements.

The upgraded car, called the CPC-1232, was adopted in 2011 after the rail industry petitioned the Department of Transportation for a more robust tank car standard.

The CPC-1232 has shields to prevent punctures on the ends of the cars, as well as valves that can better withstand derailment forces, and in some cases a jacket that provides extra protection around the tank shell.

But the CPC-1232 has failed in at least four oil train derailments since the beginning of last year in Mississippi, Virginia, and in just the past month, Ontario and West Virginia.

The new federal standards haven’t been made public, but are widely expected to improve upon the CPC-1232 design.