New deal reached to slow freight trains carrying crude

The Department of Transportation and Association of American Railroads (AAR) announced an agreement Friday to lower the speed limit for freight trains carrying crude oil.

They also agreed to inspect tracks more frequently as part of a new safety effort.

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The voluntary reforms follow the high-profile December derailment of a train in Casselton, N.D., that resulted in 400,000 gallons of crude oil being spilled and prompted a push for more stringent federal regulation of freight rail shipments involving hazardous materials.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said increasing the safety of freight rail oil shipments was a goal for both the DOT and the freight rail industry.

“DOT and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) both recognize that the United States has experienced a significant growth in the quantity of petroleum crude oil being shipped by rail in recent years,” Foxx wrote Friday in a letter to AAR President Ed Hemberger.

“The rapid increase in the production and transportation of crude oil requires additional vigilance for the continued safe movement of this commodity by all stakeholders involved, including both the rail industry and the federal government. After all, nothing is more important for all involved than safety.”

The agreement calls for any freight rail company that is a member of the AAR to comply with most of the increased regulations by July 1. Freight companies are scheduled to increase the number of track inspections they do by at least one additional test than the amount that is currently required by March 25.

In addition to the track inspections and lower speed limit, the DOT-AAR agreement calls for the freight rail industry to install wheel alignment detectors every along every 40 miles of tracks and contribute $5 million to the development of new training programs for transporting hazardous materials.

Hemberger said the freight rail industry was aware of the need for new regulations in the shipping crude oil-by-train industry.

“We share the administration’s vision for making a safe rail network even safer, and have worked together to swiftly pinpoint new operating practices that enhance the safety of moving crude oil by rail,” Hemberger said in a statement. 

“Safety is a shared responsibility among all energy-supply-chain stakeholders. We will continue to work with our safety partners – including regulators, our employees, our customers and the communities through which we operate – to find even more ways to reinforce public confidence in the rail industry’s ability to safely meet the increased demand to move crude oil,” Hemberger said.