U.S. Senate Conducts Hearing on Rail Safety

Senators, attending a U.S. Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing yesterday, complained  that government regulators are taking too long to write and pass new rail safety rules in response to the rash of oil train derailments, spills, explosions and fires (International Business TimesKSTP). They also complained railroads are taking too long to implement safety improvements Congress ordered under laws passed 7 years ago.

The hearing is particularly important because, at the same time, broader debates are occurring over the safety of transporting oil by rail versus pipelines. President Obama is scheduled to make a decision in the very near future about whether or not to build the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline to bring Canadian crude to the Gulf Coast for refining. Pipeline proponents, most safety experts and several studies agree that it would be safer and cleaner to ship crude oil by pipeline rather than by trains. As evident by the increasing numbers of main line and non-main line derailments and other accidents, the current deteriorating rail infrastructure can simply not accommodate the increasing numbers of oil trains and freight trains hauling other commodities. Pipeline proponents argue it would require 1,185 rail tank cars a day to ship as much oil as can be moved daily by the Keystone XL Pipeline. That kind of increase would exacerbate the poor state of existing rail infrastructure which was never built to handle the much longer and heavier trains that rail companies assemble today.

Railroaded Keystone XL Pipeline benefits image

The Senate subcommittee heard from the National Transportation Safety Board which has called the DOT-111 tank cars an “unacceptable safety risk” and has recommended their replacement or retrofitting since 1991. The Association of American Railroads told the subcommittee railroads agree new safety standards are needed. Meanwhile, not surprisingly, the American Petroleum Institute suggested safety standards do not need to be toughened beyond the voluntary industry standards (they do not want to affect their bottom line). Both the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and Federal Railroad Administration gave excuses to the subcommittee why new standards haven’t been drafted or passed yet.

For more information on the risks associated with shipping oil by rail, see this link.

~ by railroaded on March 7, 2014.

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