Tank car safety aim of new rules

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Tank car safety aim of new rules

A Sunday, June 29, investigative report by this newspaper revealed that crude oil trains are derailing and leaking hazardous material in dramatically increasing numbers. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, cited the newspaper’s investigation in a statement this week supporting proposals to strengthen safety standards on rail cars.

A Sunday, June 29, investigative report by this newspaper revealed that crude oil trains are derailing and leaking hazardous material in dramatically increasing numbers. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, cited the newspaper’s investigation in a statement this week supporting proposals to strengthen safety standards on rail cars.

Ohio members of Congress reacted favorably this week to proposed new rules that would phase out or retrofit tens of thousands of older railroad tank cars that carry crude oil and ethanol and are prone to leaking and exploding when they derail.

The proposal by the U.S. Department of Transportation comes in the wake of an increasing number of explosive and sometimes fatal accidents involving railroad tank cars carrying highly flammable crude oil or ethanol — including some in Ohio.

About 78,000 older flammable material railroad tank cars are in service along with another 14,000 built to somewhat higher standards since 2011, according to the Congressional Research Service. Each holds 30,000 gallons.

The proposal would phase out or retrofit the old cars within two years and also includes requirements for better braking systems and and a separate proposal to bolster emergency response planning for oil spills. The new federal rules would solidify emergency and voluntary measures put in place earlier this year — including slower speeds, advance notification of state emergency planners for certain crude oil shipments and route planning by carriers that considers risks such as density of population, environmentally sensitive areas and other criteria.

“From the safety standpoint it’s a great idea. From an emergency standpoint it’s a great idea that makes it safer for everybody around,” said Denny Bristow, coordinator of the Dayton Regional Hazardous Materials Team.

Critics like Virginia-based railroad consultant Fred Millar and the Sierra Club said the rules don’t go far enough nor will they be put into place fast enough.

“It’s mostly the same, old same old,” said Millar, adding that the law should require that the public be notified of the shipments and that railroads not get final say in routing of these extremely hazardous flammable materials.

The Sierra Club called for an immediate ban on the old rail cars. “The Department of Transportation needs to make the rails safe, not shelter the profit of dirty polluters,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

In June the Dayton Daily News published an investigation that found Ohio ranks third worst in the nation for serious hazardous materials spills of all types during transportation between 2005 and June 5, 2014.

Citing those findings, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, applauded the new proposed federal rules, which will be subject to public comment for 60 days before being finalized.

“Once implemented, these new safety standards will help ensure more robust and up-to-date standards for rail cars transporting hazardous and other materials through the state,” Brown said.

Kara Hauck, spokeswoman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., said the congressman “continues to believe that safety is a top priority and is encouraged that the U.S. Department of Transportation and stakeholders are working to improve safety regulations.”

The booming shale oil and natural gas industry led to a huge increase in crude oil shipments, which will total about 660,000 carloads this year compared to 9,500 in 2008. With it has come a dramatic increase in spills, with the number of serious spills involving crude oil trains rising from a single incident in 2005 to 47 last year in the U.S., an investigation by the Daily News found.

The worst crude oil incident occurred in July 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a runaway crude oil train derailed in the town, exploding, killing 47 people, destroying part of the town and causing an estimated $400 million in damage. Derailments, spills and fires involving crude oil trains have also occurred in Lynchburg, Va. in April and in Casselton, North Dakota in December. Fiery derailments of ethanol trains occurred in both Columbus and in Plevna, Montana in 2012, in Arcadia, Ohio in 2011 and in Painsville, Ohio in 2007.

Based on the safety record of crude oil and ethanol trains, USDOT predicts that without new rules there will be five to 15 annual derailments on main railroad lines over the next 20 years.

Jack Gerard, president and chief executive of the oil and natural gas industry’s American Petroleum Institute, said the industry is focused on safety and accident prevention and that any decisions must be grounded in science and data.

“The government can and should take steps to ensure greater safety without stalling the energy renaissance that is creating good jobs, growing our economy and improving America’s energy security,” said Gerard in a written statement.

The Association of American Railroads has already proposed stricter rail car standards. Edward R. Hamberger, president and chief executive of the railroad industry trade group called the new proposed rules “a much-needed pathway for enhancing the safe movement of flammable liquids in the U.S.”

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