Schumer wants hazardous rail tank cars phased out

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Crude oil is hauled by train through Western New York every day. The tank cars used have a record of failures, and are running on tracks close to residential neighborhoods.

A rail safety deal struck between federal regulators and the freight rail industry aims to lessen the risk of derailments, but Senator Charles Schumer says it does not go far enough because it doesn’t address DOT-111 tank cars.

Senator Schumer says two major oil companies have voluntarily agreed to get rid of the cars in the next few months, but now he’s asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to put more pressure on the other oil companies to the same.

“We ought to get rid of these cars now because they’re clearly dangerous,” he said.

On Wednesday, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) testified before a House subcommittee about the DOT-111 tank cars – something the agency has been warning about for decades.

Robert Sumwalt of the NTSB said, “Continued use of current regulatory specifications for these tank cars to ship flammable liquids pose an unacceptable public risk.”

In response to a series of train accidents involving oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota, federal regulators issued an emergency order requiring more stringent testing of crude oil before it’s shipped by rail.

The Department of Transportation found that Bakken shale oil was misclassified and carried in tankers that lack safety measures, posing an imminent hazard. The order mandates testing of oil so it can be safely transported.

Senator Schumer said, “It’s been shown in derailments the oil explodes and can cause loss of life, and a whole lot of property damage, particularly when it goes through a populated area.”

Sumwalt added, “Crude oil and ethanol transport are both up over 400 percent since 2005. And many times these products are transported in unit trains, meaning that the trains have on average about a hundred loaded tank cars of the same flammable product.”

It’s estimated that hundreds of the DOT-111 tank cars carrying crude oil pass through Buffalo on a daily basis. Senator Schumer is calling on private oil and car leasing companies to phase out the DOT-111 cars and provide a specific plan to do so by July 1.

There is a move in Washington to create new tank car standards, and that looks like it will happen before the end of the year. But a final rule by the Department of Transportation will likely take longer, possibly some time next year.

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