WASHINGTON – U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree of Maine continued to press Wednesday for stronger safety standards for tanker rail cars during a meeting with the head of an agency that oversees the transportation of hazardous materials.
The meeting with Cynthia Quarterman — administrator of the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration — was the third meeting between the representatives and top federal transportation officials this month.
Pingree and Michaud requested the meetings soon after a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded on July 6, killing 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, a town near Maine’s western border.
The two met previously with Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Joseph Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.
Officials in the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration did not respond to requests for comment on the meeting.
According to their offices, the Maine representatives discussed the “frustratingly slow” process of updating safety requirements for widely used tank cars such as those that were involved in the Quebec disaster.
Quarterman’s agency has been working on the rules for more than a year and originally planned to publish its recommendations in October. But it has pushed back that time frame, citing the need for “additional coordination,” and now is set to wrap up public comment on the proposals at the end of November.
Officials announced plans this week for a public review of federal regulations for transporting hazardous materials by rail, scheduled for Aug. 27-28 in Washington.
“The federal rulemaking process is a cumbersome one, but we need to avoid any further delays, especially given the exponential growth of hazardous material shipments,” Pingree and Michaud said in a joint statement Wednesday.
Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald.
Safety concerns about the DOT-111 rail cars are not new. The National Transportation Safety Board first raised concerns about the cars in 1991. Studies have found that they are prone to rupturing in crashes, prompting the NTSB to recommend that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration release new safety and design standards for the cars.
The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train that derailed in Lac-Megantic was hauling 72 of the DOT-111 cars, filled with crude oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. The train was en route to an Irving refinery in St. John, New Brunswick, when the engineer parked it outside of Lac-Megantic for the night. The unattended train’s brakes failed, and the train barreled down eight miles of tracks before derailing in the center of the lakeside tourist town.
The Canadian investigation is ongoing. The incident has prompted discussion of regulatory changes in Canada and the U.S. as more crude oil moves via rail.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: