Share This Page

Railroads, feds agree on crude safety

| Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, 9:45 p.m.
This Nov. 6, 2013, file photo shows a BNSF Railway train hauling crude oil near Wolf Point, Mont. Railroads that haul volatile crude shipments have reached an agreement with U.S. transportation officials to adopt wide-ranging voluntary safety measures after a string of explosive and deadly accidents.

BILLINGS, Mont. — Railroads that haul volatile crude shipments have reached an agreement with federal transportation officials to adopt wide-ranging, voluntary safety measures after a string of explosive and deadly accidents.

The agreement between the Transportation Department and the Association of American Railroads was obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

It calls for railroads to slow down oil trains from 50 mph to 40 mph through major cities. Railroads must inspect tracks more frequently and bolster emergency response planning along routes that carry trains hauling up to 3 million gallons of crude each.

The safety steps would begin going into effect in late March and be fully in place by July 1.

After a boom in domestic drilling in recent years, oil trains now travel thousands of miles from oil producing areas — including the Northern Plains — to coastal refineries and shipping terminals along the Mississippi River and other major waterways.

The agreement doesn't resolve concerns over another fuel — ethanol, which also has led to a spate of accidents as production has increased. The pact leaves out tens of thousands of flawed tank cars that carry crude and ethanol and are known to split open during derailments. Railroads and federal officials said they would address that issue separately.

At least 10 times since 2008, freight trains hauling oil across North America have derailed and spilled significant quantities of crude. Most of the accidents touched off fires or catastrophic explosions.

The deadliest wreck killed 47 people in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Twenty-one Norfolk Southern railroad cars hauling explosive propane gas and Canadian crude oil derailed Feb. 13 from at least 100 more tankers in Westmoreland County. The cars skipped a track between the Kiski River and a Sherman Avenue neighborhood in Vandergrift before crashing into MSI Corp., a specialty-metals factory.

Norfolk Southern estimated about 1,000 gallons of heavy crude spilled from a single tanker car. No residents or rail workers were hurt, and officials said the river was not harmed.

By taking voluntary measures, railroads will be able to act far more quickly than if they waited for safety rules to be drafted and approved by the government, said Robert Chipkevich, former director of rail and hazardous materials accident investigations at the National Transportation Safety Board. But he added that regulators would have little leverage to enforce the industry's commitments.

“It's a positive step,” Chipkevich said. “But certainly there's nothing to say they would have to continue following those practices. The only way you can enforce something like that would be for regulators to publish regulations and do periodic oversight.”

The Association of American Railroads represents all of the major railroads in the United States, Canada and Mexico, which are expected to sign on.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.