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Older Oil Tank Rail Cars Face Three-Year Deadline to be Replaced

Following up on last month's emergency rule addressing trains speeds, the Transportation Department issued new rules addressing tanker car standards, long thought to be one of the most important factors contributing to fiery oil tank car explosions.
May 4, 2015, 9am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"More than two years in the making... (t)he regulations introduce a new tank car standard for oil and ethanol with better protections, and mandate the use of electronically controlled brakes," writes Jad Mouawad of The New York Times. 

By 2018, the rule would phase out older tank cars, DOT-111s, long known to be ill suited for transporting flammable material. A newer generation of cars, known as CPC-1232, would have to be retired or refitted to meet the new standard, DOT-117, by 2020.

Missing are regulations concerning the volatility, particularly from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota long thought to be a factor in oil train explosions, noted by Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington.

“It does nothing to address explosive volatility, very little to reduce the threat of rail car punctures, and is too slow on the removal of the most dangerous cars,” she said. “It’s more of a status quo rule.”

However, North Dakota issued state rules to address "oil stabilization" that took effect April 1, reports The Associated Press.

The rule introduces a new, if awkward term to describe what has been referred to here as "crude-by-rail" and "oil trains." From Department of Transportation (DOT) rule summary:

“High-hazard flammable trains” (HHFT) which means “a continuous block of 20 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid or 35 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid dispersed through a train.”   

To the disappointment of Congress members from states that have seem much crude by rail traffic, "regulators retreated from a provision that would have forced railroads to notify communities of any oil train traffic," rites Mouawad. "Instead, railroads will need to have only a “point of contact” for information related to the routing of hazardous materials."

“Instead of providing first responders more details about oil shipments, railroads will simply be required to give our firefighters a phone number,” said Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

A year ago, DOT had issued an emergency order "requiring all railroads operating trains containing large amounts of Bakken crude oil to notify State Emergency Response Commissions about the operation of these trains through their state," according to our May 9 post.

DOT received a similar reaction from Senators regarding the length of time allowed for existing tank cars to remain in service. "Mr. Schumer (D-N.Y.) was one of seven senators who unveiled a bill that would seek to impose a fee of $175 per shipment on older cars to speed up their removal from service," notes Mouawad

The new rules were presented by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at a news conference in Washington with Canada’s transport minister, Lisa Raitt. Foxx "said Canadian and American regulations would be aligned."

Full Story:
Published on Friday, May 1, 2015 in The New York Time - Energy & Environment
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