By ANGELA GREILING KEANE
Crude oil hauled by rail needs to be shipped in stronger tank
cars and on safer routes, transportation investigators in the
US and Canada said following a series of accidents in North
The US National Transportation Safety Board and Canadian
Transportation Safety Board issued the recommendations on
Thursday as part of a probe into the July derailment of rail
cars filled with oil in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The accident
ignited an inferno that killed 47 people spending a Saturday
night in the towns center.
The large-scale shipment of crude oil by rail simply
didnt exist 10 years ago, and our safety regulations
need to catch up with this new reality, NTSB chairman
Deborah Hersman said, citing concerns about the major
loss of life in accidents involving oil transported by
The Canadian agency recommended tougher standards for the
type of tank car involved in the Lac-Megantic disaster,
improve route planning and require detailed
emergency-response plans in communities where oil shipments
travel. The NTSB made recommendations to make the tank cars
safer in 2009.
Neither agency has the power to issue or enforce standards,
which are overseen by agencies such as the US Transportation
Department and Transport Canada.
In the course of our Lac-Mégantic investigation,
we found three critical weaknesses in the North American rail
system which must be urgently addressed, TSB chairwoman
Wendy Tadros said.
The boards acted after a BNSF Railway train carrying Bakken
formation crude crashed in North Dakota last month, forcing
the evacuation of a nearby town, and a CSX train hauling
crude derailed Jan. 20 near the Schuylkill River in
Record volumes of oil are being hauled by rail as soaring
production from Canada, North Dakotas Bakken shale
formation and Texas exceeds pipeline capacity. US oil output
at the highest level since 1988 has led to a 400% increase in
oil shipments by rail since 2005, the NTSB said, citing
Association of American Railroads data.
Through Jan. 18, the volume of US rail shipments of petroleum
and associated products increased 13% this year as overall
traffic is up less than 1%, according to AAR data released
The Canadian board recommended that tank cars designated as
DOT-111 that haul crude should be stronger and better able to
withstand a crash or blast.
If crude oil is to be carried, it shouldnt be
carried in class-111 tank cars, Tadros said at an
Ottawa news conference. The timing of a phase out should be
left to regulators, she said, saying she would like to see it
sooner rather than later.
The NTSB has investigated rail crashes since 1992 when this
type of tank car ruptured. Hersman has said they have
inadequate design. The NTSB has recommended
phasing out the cars if they cant be retrofitted to be
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last week met with
officials from the railroad and oil industries, who agreed to
spend 30 days examining steps to improve safety of trains
hauling crude. Railcar suppliers complained about being left
out of the meeting.
The increased production of crude oil in the Bakken
region presents tremendous economic and energy opportunities
for this country, yet it also presents new and unique
challenges, Foxx wrote yesterday to the heads of three
industry groups at the meeting. It is up to all of us
to ensure that the crude oil, whether from North Dakota or
elsewhere, is transported safely and securely with no adverse
impact to Americans or their property.
Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt promised to respond to
the investigators recommendations.
We thank the Transportation Safety Board for their
recommendations and their ongoing investigation into the
tragic Lac-Mégantic incident, Raitt said.
I have instructed my officials to review the
recommendations on an urgent basis.
US mayors separately pressed President Barack Obamas
administration for more oversight of the railroad industry,
citing the risks of shipping oil and natural gas
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose city is one of the
nations main railroad hubs, today said the US should
impose a fee on energy producers and their industrial
customers to improve railways, a source of money that could
also help pay for the cost of responding to accidents.
Emanuel, Obamas former chief of staff, spoke during a
meeting of the US Conference of Mayors today in Washington.
We love rail traffic, and we want more and more of it,
but theres a lot going on, said Philadelphia
Mayor Michael Nutter, who said his citys rail yard is
near an expressway. This is not like a fire in a
trashcan. This is serious stuff.
Foxx, who was at the meeting, said the agency is also looking
into railways. There is no magic bullet here,
said Foxx, a former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina.
We dont think this is a situation where any one
type of action is going to solve the problem.