Editorial: Pass Safety Laws for Oil Trains

By:  The Seattle Times - Editorial Board
Source: The Seattle Times

THESE are boom times indeed for hauling oil by rail. The trains are derailing, catching fire, spilling oil and blowing up with alarming regularity.

Most recently in Lynchburg, Va., some 15 tank cars derailed, plunged into the James River, caught fire and dumped their cargo.

The news is all the more alarming for Washington communities where crude-by-rail proposals are being debated, and cities and towns across the state would see a dramatic increase in oil-tank-car traffic.

Concerned citizens recently turned out in Skagit County and Centralia to make their worst fears known about the potential for accidents in their communities.

Two key points are in play. One is to make sure local public-safety agencies have knowledge of the rail traffic, so they can plan accordingly. The 2014 Legislature failed to use its voice to tell the industry and federal regulators the information was needed.

The Lynchburg accident might have made a difference. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has been pressing the U.S. Department of Transportation for mandatory rules on crude-by-rail safety.

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced an emergency order requiring railroads to identify routes on which trains hauling more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude are traveling, and to notify state safety officials.

That is a start, but the other lingering issue is the safety of the tank cars. Cantwell noted the National Transportation Safety Board has raised concerns about the DOT-111, an older model tank rail car, since 1991.

Oil shippers have signed on to a voluntary effort to upgrade the tank cars. Voluntary efforts are no answer. Last week, the entire Washington congressional delegation signed a letter written by U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, asking the Office of Management and Budget to issue strong regulatory standards as quickly as possible.

Washington residents are spooked by the prospects of more and more oil trains moving through their communities. Rightfully so.