Railroads reach agreement on voluntary safety measures

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – An agreement between U.S. Transportation Department and the Association of American Railroads was obtained by the Associated Press on Friday and details new safety measures for railroads transporting crude oil.

The agreement will institute wide-ranging, voluntary safety measures, including slowing trains down from 50 to 40 miles per hour in major cities, inspecting tracks more frequently and bolstering emergency response plans along routes that carry trains hauling up to 3 million gallons of crude each.

Since last summer, Senator Charles Schumer has been sounding the alarm about the transportation of crude oil through populated ares of WNY in older model DOT-111 tank cars.

“When it comes to keeping our railways and communities safe, I am in favor of an all-of-the-above approach that includes many of the efforts announced today: setting new speed limits, increasing track inspections, and equipping trains with advanced breaking systems,” Sen. Schumer said.

However, the agreement stops short of doing anything about the DOT-111 tank cars.

RELATED STORY | Earlier this month, News 4 Investigates highlighted the dangers of these tank cars in a Special Report. View it here

Since 2005, crude oil shipments by rail have increased over 400 percent, and in recent months, there have been a spate of fiery derailments involving DOT-111 tank cars.

Last July, nearly 50 people in a small Quebec town died after a train carrying light crude derailed and exploded. Investigators say 72 of the cars in that accident were DOT-111s, the same that roll through WNY.

The older model tank cars have a record of failures, and roughly around 92,000 of them are moving flammable liquid in the U.S., according to the Association of American Railroads.

Sen. Schumer said, “While it is great news that the Association of American Railroads is working with the DOT on these voluntary safety standards, there is simply no replacement for federal rulemaking requiring the phase-out or retrofitting of outdated tank cars. Therefore, while these measures are a very positive step, I will keep my foot on the gas to get federal standards to require safer cars on the rails.”

The Association of American Railroads says around 78,000 of the DOT-111 tank cars might require retrofitting or to be phased out. However, the energy industry, which owns or leases them, is fighting to keep them in use.

“The energy industry is saying, ‘Well, let the rail industry route the trains through different routes. Make the trains go slower.’ Those are not bad suggestions. But when you’re dealing with the magnitude of oil they want to ship, it’s impossible to not send through places like Buffalo,” Sen. Schumer said.

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