Politics

July 29, 2013

Obama administration delays oil train safety rules

MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Wrecked tanker cars are pictured during cleanup on Tuesday, July 16, 2013, at the crash site of the train derailment and fire in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The derailment July 6, 2013, left 37 people confirmed dead and another 13 missing and presumed dead. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

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While freight rail should not be "demonized," increased traffic of rail cars carrying crude oil "warrants increased safety measures, and that begins with putting the safest, most up-to-date tank cars on the tracks," Schumer said at a news conference last week in Albany, N.Y.

Democratic Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree of Maine said the government should conduct a wide-ranging safety review as transportation of oil by train increases dramatically in Maine and other states. Nearly 30,000 barrels of per day crossed Maine in March — 15 times more than the same period a year earlier, the lawmakers said in a letter to National Transportation Safety Board and other officials. The train that derailed in Quebec was scheduled to cross Maine on its way to a refinery in St. John, New Brunswick.

A spokeswoman for the American Association of Railroads, which represents the rail industry, said the group shares Schumer's belief in putting safety first.

"If safer and better DOT-111s can be had, then it makes good sense to ensure that the design and standards that these cars are built to, must be tougher than the federal standards that exist today," said spokeswoman Patricia Reilly.

Rather than waiting for the Obama administration to act, Reilly said, the industry has adopted voluntary standards ensuring that all DOT-111s ordered after October 2011 meet tough requirements recommended by the NTSB after a deadly ethanol train derailment and explosion in Illinois in 2009.

But those voluntary standards do not apply to an estimated 40,000 cars built before October 2011 that carry oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids.

The railroads and the oil industry have resisted calls to retrofit existing cars, saying that would present technological and engineering challenges and cost at least $1 billion.

The American Petroleum Institute, the largest lobbying group for the oil industry, declined an interview request. But in comments submitted along with the Renewable Fuels Association, the American Chemistry Council and other groups, the API asked the Obama administration to focus its rule-making on cars built after October 2011.

The industry's proposal "ignores the safety risks posed by the current fleet," the NTSB said in a report on safety recommendations last year. Older tank cars "can almost always be expected to breach in derailments that involve pileups or multiple car-to-car impacts," the report said.

The NTSB cited the car's "inadequate design" in the 2009 crash outside Rockford, Ill., which killed a woman and injured 11 others. The NTSB called for a redesign or replacement of the DOT-111 cars. A decision on whether to require a redesign is up to the pipeline safety administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The DOT-111 car's steel shell is too thin to resist puncture in accidents, the NTSB said, and the ends of the car are vulnerable to ruptures. Valves used for unloading and other exposed fittings on the tops of the tankers can also break during rollovers.

The flaws were noted as far back as a 1991 safety study.

The pipeline safety administration is considering whether to split the proposed rule into one that addresses new tank cars and another that addresses possible retrofits, said spokesman Gordon Delcambre Jr.

 

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