Oil train shipment details not sensitive, federal transportation officials argue
BILLINGS, Mont. — Federal transportation officials said on Wednesday that details about volatile oil train shipments are not sensitive security information, as railroads sought to keep the material from the public after a string of fiery accidents.
The Department of Transportation has ordered railroads to give state officials specifics on oil train routes and volumes so emergency responders can better prepare for accidents.
Railroads have persuaded some states to sign agreements restricting the information's release for business and security reasons.
But the Federal Railroad Administration determined the information is not sensitive information that must be withheld from the public to protect security, said Kevin Thompson, the agency's associate administrator.
Thompson added that railroads could have appropriate claims that the information should be kept confidential for business reasons, but he said states and railroads would have to work that out.
Montana officials said they intend to publicly release the oil train information next week.
The move is mandated under the state's open records law and will help protect public safety by raising community awareness, said Andrew Huff, chief legal counsel for Gov. Steve Bullock.
“Part of the whole reason the federal government ordered that this information be given to states is to protect the communities through which these trains roll,” Huff said. “If there's not some federal pre-emption or specific regulation or statute that prevents release of this information, then under our records laws we have to release it.”