Casey endorses greater spending on rail safety
Following three train derailments in the state this year — including one in Vandergrift in February — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said he strongly supports federal funding for new rail inspectors and the expanded use of automated track inspections.
“These incidents should serve as a wake-up call that we need new efforts to enhance safety,” Casey said on Thursday. “The idea that we should have to pass a bill to make sure these people are hired ... they should be funded every year.”
Casey is putting his support behind the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill, which is an allocation of $52 billion in discretionary spending.
The bill includes funding for 20 new rail and hazardous material inspectors and allows the retention of 45 rail safety positions that were established this year, he said.
The bill calls for $3 million for automated track inspections and $1 million to pay for online training for first responders on how to handle train derailments.
The training currently is only available in Colorado.
Rail companies are beginning to work with Pennsylvania officials to inform them of what types of materials are coming through via rail and at what time, according to Casey's office.
As petroleum production in the Dakotas and Canada has increased dramatically, trains transported more than 400,000 tanker cars of oil last year.
Many of them cross Western Pennsylvania to reach East Coast refineries.
The senator said he supports new safety standards for rail carriers transporting hazardous materials.
“We need to be responsive to the problem because we have to do everything we can to prevent this from happening in the future,” he said. “Safe and dependable rail transport is critical to the economy and people who live near railroads.”
Among the biggest concernsis the use of DOT-111 tankers, an old-style variety that critics say are, relatively speaking, as flimsy as soda cans.
The federal Department of Transportation issued a voluntary request for shippers to use sturdier tankers. And, last November, the Association of American Railroads Tank Car Committee urged the Department of Transportation's hazmat administration to increase safety by requiring that all tank cars used to transport flammable liquids be built to a higher standard.
“In general, the DOT-111 tank car is a safe vehicle — it's not a Pinto on wheels,” said Thomas Simpson, president of the Railway Supply Institute, the only trade association representing the entire rail supply industry. “The ‘111' operates safely every day in North America.”
He said the RSI has proposed a “holistic approach” to the federal secretary of transportation.
It includes rail safety to make sure trains stay on the track, ensuring that shippers put crude oil into the correct tank cars and modifying current tank cars to remove risks while also developing new tank specifications, he said.
“We've urged the secretary to get the (new) rules published so that we can begin the work we need to do,” Simpson said.
The federal government issued an emergency order in early May requiring railroads to alert state emergency agencies about large Bakken crude oil shipments traveling through local communities.
Bakken shale crude can be explosive. Last July, a train crash in Quebec involving Bakken oil incinerated much of the downtown, killing 47 people.
Federal officials said they are working on new tanker standards but pointed to other stepped-up railroad transportation standards that have been implemented.
For example, the Federal Railroad Administration this month announced a rule requiring two-person train crews on crude oil trains and establishing minimum crew size standards for most freight and passenger trains.
New regulations are expected to be released by early 2015.
Recommendations include puncture resistance systems for tanker cars and protection for hatches and valves that exceeds current requirements, he said.
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.