WASHINGTON – Amid increasing concern about “oil trains” derailing and exploding, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Wednesday ordered rail companies to warn state officials whenever they are hauling crude oil or other hazardous materials through local communities.
Under the order, states then must pass that information on to local first responders.
In addition, Foxx issued a safety alert warning rail companies that DOT-111 tank cars – which are not designed for carrying flammable liquids – should not be used to ship oil unless they are reinforced.
“Today’s actions, the latest in a series that make up an expansive strategy, will ensure that communities are more informed and that companies are using the strongest possible tank cars,” Foxx said at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.
Foxx’s actions come a week after a train carrying oil derailed in Lynchburg, Va.
That was just the latest in a series of such accidents, including one in Cheektowaga last December.
Railroads are increasingly using older DOT-111 tanker cars to transport crude oil from the fast-growing Bakken Shale oil fields in North Dakota to points east.
Two or three such trains roll through the Buffalo region every day, which is one reason why Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., last week asked Foxx to force rail companies to report when they are making such shipments.
“Secretary Foxx’s announcement today is a crucial first step for the safety of New York communities through which flammable, oil-laden freight trains now rumble,” said Schumer.
“This federal requirement that information be shared directly with the state opens the door for this potentially life-saving info to be shared with local first responders, which should happen as soon as possible,” he added.
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also lauded Foxx’s action but agreed with Schumer that the DOT must go further.
“I strongly urge industry to follow this new safety alert and immediately being phasing out the use of DOT-111 rail cars for shipping crude oil,” she said.
“But we cannot rely on voluntary industry action alone to protect the safety of New Yorkers, and the administration must finish its work to implement a final rule to permanently ban the shipment of crude oil on DOT-111 cars.”
The safety alert Foxx announced Wednesday asks railroads to either retrofit or abandon the use of the DOT-111 tank cars, which are neither pressurized nor armored and therefore more prone to explode if carrying oil when the train derails.
The alert falls short of an actual federal rule banning the use of the outdated rail cars.
The DOT recently delivered a proposed rule on rail car safety to the White House, but it is likely to be months before that rule will be finalized.
“These outdated tank cars are ticking time bombs, and local first responders need to know when they are coming and what they are carrying so they can be adequately prepared for any scenario,” Schumer said.
“The fact that the DOT issued this emergency order today so quickly after our push shows that Secretary Foxx gets it, and I sincerely hope they follow it up with a federal rule that requires the phase-out or retrofitting of outdated DOT-111 tank cars.”