NTSB warns of 'major loss of life' without tougher oil train regs

AP

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is warning a "major loss of life" is likely unless tougher regulations on oil-by-rail shipment are introduced.

The agency's warning follows a spate of high-profile derailments of trains that were carrying crude oil, most recently in North Dakota and Quebec.

The NTSB said Thursday it was "concerned" a "major loss of life, property damage and environmental consequences" could occur, if large volumes of crude or other flammable liquids are involved in an rail accident.

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"The large-scale shipment of crude oil by rail simply didn't exist ten years ago, and our safety regulations need to catch up with this new reality," said NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said in a statement. "While this energy boom is good for business, the people and the environment along rail corridors must be protected from harm."

Supporters of the Keystone XL oil pipeline have said that the amount of oil that is being shipped by trains would decrease if the controversial pipeline is approved by the Obama administration.

The NTSB did not address the Keystone pipeline in its recommendations on Thursday, but the agency did issue three suggestions to increase the safety of oil-by-rail shipments.

The NTSB's proposals call for rerouting trains carrying crude oil around heavily populated areas, establishing a program that allows the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to audit the labeling of trains by railways that carry oil and the companies that ship with them.

Hersman said the recommendations were reasonable responses to the high-profile derailments.

"If unit trains of flammable liquids are going to be part of our nation's energy future, we need to make sure the hazardous materials classification is accurate, the route is well planned, and the tank cars are as robust as possible," Hersman said.