Washington, D.C. – At U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s urging, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today issued new proposed rules on tankers transporting oil including quickly phasing out the use of old DOT-111 rail cars for transporting crude oil and other hazardous liquids. The new proposed rule would also propose new operational requirements that would reduce operating speeds and enhance braking capabilities for high-hazard flammable trains. DOT also announced an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on oil spill response plans.
New York has seen a dramatic rise in the transport of crude oil across rail lines, including a series of derailments and spills, which could put communities at risk. Early in March, Senator Gillibrand called for the DOT to urgently update and implement guidelines for safer transport of hazardous liquids, especially with regard to the DOT-111 rail cars. She continued her effort by pressing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard to quickly update contingency plans for oil spills in the New York and New Jersey region, and to include local first responders in the planning process. Then in April, Senator Gillibrand joined with 15 of her Senate Colleagues requesting funding in the fiscal year 2015 budget for increased inspections of rail cars that handle toxic and hazardous materials.
“I applaud Secretary Foxx for taking comprehensive action to protect our communities from dangerous rail cars that have proven time and time again to pose a serious safety risk,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This proposed rule is a common-sense approach that puts into place many of the reforms that communities across New York have demanded. For the sake of protecting health and safety, I hope that DOT can move quickly to finalize this rule in the coming months.”
According to the Association of American Railroads, oil shipments have increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to an estimated 400,000 carloads in 2013 nationally. Terminals at the Port of Albany have plans to increase their capacity to handle 2.8 billion gallons of oil per year. An additional transfer station is planned in New Windsor. Since December 2013, there have been at least 4 rail car incidents in New York State, including West Nyack, Cheektowaga, Ulster, and Selkirk. Millions of New Yorkers live, work, and attend school within the vicinity of the train tracks, which are often used multiple times a day by trains over 100 cars long, and carrying 85,000 barrels of oil.
CSX lines carrying crude oil run through neighborhoods in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and New York City, as well as other cities, towns and villages around the state. An accident or explosion in any of these communities would have catastrophic consequences. Additionally, freight rail lines run along some of New York’s environmentally sensitive areas, including the banks of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, and along the edge of the Adirondack Park in the North Country. A spill affecting any of New York’s water bodies, public lands or other protected ecosystems would pose a serious risk to these natural resources.
Specifically, the proposed rule will define the term “high-hazard flammable train” (HHFT) as a train carrying 20 or more tank carloads of flammable liquids (including crude oil and ethanol); require rail cars used to transport flammable liquids to conform to new safety standards, require the phase-out of old cars that do not meet those standards; require better classification and characterization of mined gasses and liquids; require carriers to perform routing risk assessments for HHFTs; codify DOT’s May 2014 emergency order requiring carriers to notify state emergency responders on the operation of trains carrying more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil; and propose to evaluate speed restrictions for HHFTs; and would require HHFTs to be equipped with enhanced breaking systems.
Concurrently, DOT issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on updating oil spill emergency response plans.