Freight rail lobby wants new oil train regulations

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Association of America Railroads (AAR) President Ed Hamberger pushed Thursday for the federal government to increase its standards for oil train cars after a series of high-profile deadly derailments. 

The current most common oil tanker that are used on freight railways, which are known as DOT-111s, have been involved in fatal accidents in Quebec, Canada, and Casselton, N.D., that resulted in explosions and massive oil spills. 

The accidents have drawn the attention of regulators and lawmakers who are looking to make changes to the rules for shipping hazardous material on freight trains. Some critics have suggested that the rail cars that were involved in the 2013 crashes should be taken off the tracks completely. 

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Hamberger said Thursday the oldest oil train cars should at least be retrofitted before they are gradually taken out of service. 

“Railroads are taking multiple steps to further increase the safety of transporting crude oil, but more can be done when it comes to the tank cars used to haul it,” he said in a statement. “Railroads believe that federal tank car standards should be raised to ensure crude oil and other flammable liquids are moving in the safest car possible based on the product they are moving. The industry also wants the existing crude oil fleet upgraded through retrofits, or older cars to be phased out as quickly as possible.”

The shipping of crude oil by rail has emerged as a controversial issue in Washington as its frequency has increased in recent years and high-profile accidents have occurred.   

Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline have used the oil train accidents to argue that the controversial project should be approved by the Obama administration. 

Federal regulators have focused instead on improvements that can be made within the freight rail industry. 

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in an appearance on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow" show last month that "the DOT-111 ... needs to be either retrofitted or replaced."

"I can tell you that I don't have confidence in the DOT-111," Foxx said during his appearance. "I'm unconvinced that the 12-32, which is the upgraded car, is the absolute solution. I think there's probably going to need to be a new kind of tank car established to keep this country as safe as possible." 

Hamberger defended the freight rail industry’s handling of oil shipments on Thursday, saying the industry had a commitment to safety that was “embedded” in its core.

“In any discussion of crude by rail, safety and reliability are key factors in understanding how important rail has become to North America’s push for energy independence,” the AAR chief said.

“A strong safety culture is embedded in the railroads, and has long been a core attribute of the railroading industry – from planning and training to prevention and preparedness,” he continued. “Railroads’ reliability comes from a demonstrated track record of investing billions of dollars back into the rail network year over year, enabling railroads to swiftly meet the rising demand to move domestic energy resources our economy relies upon.”

Hamberger added that the freight rail industry was also taking steps to make oil train accidents less dangerous. 

“Railroads are working with state and local emergency response officials to ensure those who need to know what is moving through their area are informed and trained to respond to an emergency situation,” he said. “The industry has also taken the lead in designing new training programs focused specifically on emergency response incidents involving crude oil to make sure first responders have the skills and training they need.”