U.S. Railroads Agree to Transport Oil More Safely
As pressure mounts from municipalities, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), state politicians, rail safety experts and rail workers to improve rail safety, an agreement has recently been reached between the U.S. Transportation Department and the Association of American Railroads on a number of voluntary safety measures (Edmonton Journal).
The new agreement will see railroads slow down oil trains from 80kph to 64kph through major cities, inspect tracks more often, and improve emergency response planning along routes carrying trains that haul up to 11.4 million litres of crude oil each. Railroads in the U.S. would also have to weigh the risks along particular routes and consider alternatives, although it’s inevitable trains would continue going through large population centres in many cases. As well, railroads agreed to provide $5 million US to develop a training curriculum for emergency responders focused on crude accidents.
The new agreement does not address concerns over shipping ethanol, which has also been involved in a spate of rail accidents, nor does it address the tens of thousands of flawed DOT-111 tank cars that continue to haul crude oil and ethanol. The DOT-111 model tank car has been known for decades to puncture easily during derailments and other accidents.
The advantage of the new agreement on voluntary safety measures is that railroads can now act more quickly, rather than wait for the U.S. federal government to draft and pass new safety legislation. A former NTSB director said it’s a positive step, but regulators will have little leverage to enforce the railroads’ commitments, and there’s really nothing to say that the railroads would have to continue following the new guidelines.
See this link for additional information on the risks of shipping oil and other dangerous goods by rail.