Feds order speed limits for oil trains

Feds order speed limits for oil trains
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The Obama administration is requiring freight rail companies to impose a 40 mile per hour speed limit on oil trains that run near major cities that have large populations. 

The announcement, from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), comes in response to a series of high-profile accidents that have raised questions about the safety of shipping large amounts of crude oil by train. 

The FRA said Friday that it is issuing an emergency order that will apply the new speed limit to all trains that are carrying 35 or more tank cars loaded with liquids that are considered class 3 flammable materials under federal regulations, which means they have a flash point of at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

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“FRA has determined that public safety compels issuance of this Order,” the agency said in a summary of its action. “This Order is necessary due to the recent occurrence of railroad accidents involving trains transportation petroleum crude oil and ethanol and the increasing reliance on railroads to transport voluminous amounts of those hazardous materials in recent years.” 

The new speed limits will apply to areas of track that are located within ten miles of 34 metropolitan areas that have been designated "High Threat Urban Areas" by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The high-occupancy cities include New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, among others. 

The transportation of crude oil by freight rail is a contentious issue. Lawmakers have sought widespread reforms since 2013 accidents in Casselton, N.D., and Quebec, Canada, spilled thousands of gallons of oil and caused explosions. 

Safety advocates praised the Obama administration Friday for implementing more stringent oil train regulations, citing the risk to cities that are near heavily used tracks. 

“Many of these rail safety announcements are long overdue and just common sense,” Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioDemocratic chairman presses Transportation secretary over transparency in Boeing 737 Max probe Democratic lawmaker asks for probe of reports Chao favored Kentucky officials Hillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill MORE (D-Ore.) said in a statement. 

“We need to make sure our first responders are receiving the critical information they need to prepare for and respond to rail incidents involving flammable materials, including crude oil and ethanol,” he continued.

“The advisories that recommend railroads lower the threshold for requiring wheel repairs and reduce speeds in certain areas are a good start. Ultimately, we also need the final rail tank car safety rule. We must replace the outdated, unsafe rail cars moving hazardous materials through our communities and better protect the public as soon as possible.”

Rail groups in Washington have supported the objective of making oil train shipments safer, but they say the industry has voluntarily made reforms in recent years. 

“The freight railroad industry shares the belief that there is no greater priority than safety. It is always our goal to make a safe network even safer, and as FRA data shows, 2014 was the safest year for train accidents in railroad history,” Association of American Railroads spokesman Ed Hamberger said in a statement.

“The added federal directives build on the many practices and protocols the industry has applied for years for safely moving and handling hazardous materials by rail, including flammable liquids,” Hamberger continued.  “Overall, these federal provisions reflect the fact that moving crude by rail is a shared responsibility, involving a safety system of prevention, mitigation and response. Railroads, like all supply chain stakeholders, anxiously await the federal government’s final rules on tank cars, which directly addresses the heart of mitigation.”

The full FRA emergency order can be read here