Cantwell Urges USDOT to Move ‘Faster’ on Oil Train Safety Rules

Senator: ‘These rail cars are going through every major population center in our state’


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) urged the U.S. Department of Transportation to move faster on finalizing new safety regulations for oil trains hauling flammable Bakken crude as the nation’s energy boom sends increasing oil traffic to Washington state refineries.

“My viewpoint on rail car issues is that we should go faster: The Administration should get those recommendations implemented,” Cantwell said during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. “My constituents are now seeing trains through every major city in our state. They’re literally hitting Spokane through the Tri-Cities, through Vancouver, up through Tacoma, Seattle, Everett and then up to the refineries.”

Cantwell raised her concerns during a hearing on enhancing the safety and efficiency of freight transportation. She has repeatedly pressed the Obama administration and industry officials to adopt stronger safety regulations. 

“These rail cars are going through every major population center in our state,” Cantwell said.  “It’s a very big issue for us. I feel like our committee has some very important roles to play on safety and security, so we will look forward to that.”

The USDOT proposed new standards for oil tank cars hauling flammable materials such as crude oil and ethanol in the wake of several fiery derailments involving oil tank cars – including one in Quebec that killed 47 people. But the new rules on oil tank cars aren’t expected to be finalized until May. USDOT missed a January 15 deadline set by the last Congress.

The proposed rules would phase out the use of older “DOT-111” tank cars for the shipment of Bakken crude. The DOT-111 poses a higher safety risk than newer cars, whose hulls are less likely to puncture in the case of a derailment. About 80,000 of these older, less safe DOT-111’s currently are in use.

In a May 2014 hearing, Cantwell pressed U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on the progress of implementing new regulations. In the same hearing, Foxx announced a new USDOT order requiring railroads to identify routes where trains are hauling more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude and to notify state emergency management officials.

An average of 19 oil trains now traverse Washington state every week.

Washington state is the fifth-largest refining state in the U.S. and a destination for increasing quantities of crude-by-rail from North Dakota shale fields. The amount of crude oil shipped by rail has increased from none in 2011 to 714 million gallons in 2013, according to a state Ecology Department report. Recent high-profile rail accidents in North America have prompted Washington state lawmakers and officials in several cities to call for stronger regulations.