Feds tighten safeguards for oil trains, advocates want more

  • Federal regulators are tightening some rules on transport of flammable liquids in tank cars.

      Federal regulators are tightening some rules on transport of flammable liquids in tank cars. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer, December 2014

 
 
Updated 4/17/2015 5:38 PM

Federal regulators' tweaks to rules for trains carrying flammable liquids released Friday didn't impress local officials who are concerned about explosive fires.

"I'm fairly underwhelmed," Barrington Mayor Karen Darch said regarding the recommendations by the Federal Railroad Administration and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The two agencies did act on one concern of suburban fire departments that first-responders wouldn't get information on hazmat being shipped in a timely manner in cases of derailments or fires.

Regulators advised railroads and shippers they must provide first responders immediately with names and descriptions of hazardous materials, fire risks and the locations of tank cars on the train and their specifications, among other details.

Another recommendation was that "only the highest skilled inspectors" conduct brake and mechanical inspections of trains carrying large quantities of flammable liquids, including crude oil and ethanol.

"That struck me as incredibly odd," Darch said, noting she was under the impression only well-qualified inspectors would be used in the first place given the volatility of some cargo on oil trains.

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Regulators also issued an emergency order requiring trains with 20 or more continuous tank cars or 35 or more tank cars with Class 3 flammable liquids like crude oil stay at 40 mph or lower in urban areas.

Darch said restricting the speed limits to trains with 20 or 35 tank cars of flammable hazmat didn't cover safety concerns when freights had smaller loads.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin called the changes "steps in the right direction, but they are not enough. We have to move to a new generation of tank cars that bring a new generation of safety. We are seeing the use of these tank cars moving crude oil in dramatically large numbers through rural and urban areas."

Durbin is asking regulators to finalize new rules ordering retrofitting and replacement of older, accident-prone tank cars.

Since Feb. 16, four derailments of trains carrying crude oil with subsequent fire balls have occurred in the United States and Canada. One involved tank cars on a BNSF train outside of Galena March 5.

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