Following Casey Effort, Department of Transportation, Freight Rail Industry Agree on New Safety Standards for Oil Transport

Decreased Train Speed, Increased Emergency Response Training Among Proposed Reforms / Casey Letter to Secretary Foxx Highlights Need for Safety Improvements

Following Casey Effort, Department of Transportation, Freight Rail Industry Agree on New Safety Standards for Oil Transport

Washington, DC – Following his letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) calling for new safety standards in the wake of two train derailments in Pennsylvania, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) announced that the DOT and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) have come to an agreement on operational changes to safeguard the transportation of crude oil.

“The agreement today between the freight rail industry and the Department of Transportation is a step in the right direction,” said Senator Casey.  “I am pleased a compromise was reached that will help prevent future derailments and enhance the safety of moving crude oil.”

Among the proposed reforms are plans for decreased speeds for trains in urban areas, increased emergency response training, and emergency response capability planning, which Senator Casey highlighted in his letter to DOT Secretary Foxx.  Further proposed changes can be found here.

Senator Casey’s letter to the DOT calling for reforms can be found below:

The Honorable Anthony Foxx

Secretary of Transportation

Dear Secretary Foxx,

I write to you in the wake of yet another freight train derailment that occurred last week in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania. In this accident, several train cars reportedly derailed and struck a building causing several thousand gallons of crude oil to spill. In late January, seven train cars carrying oil derailed on a bridge over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Thankfully, no one was injured in either accident.  However, two train derailments in Pennsylvania in less than a month are alarming and require immediate attention. 

I believe it is crucial for the Department of Transportation to use all resources at its disposal to keep our communities safe by reducing the likelihood of similar accidents in the future. The Federal Railroad Administration’s decision to investigate the cause of the Vandergrift accident is an important step in this process, and I look forward to reviewing the finding of their report.

Crude shipments by rail have increased drastically over the past several years, largely due to the rise of oil production in North Dakota.  The majority of this oil is shipped by rail and large quantities of it travel through Pennsylvania.  The increase in shipments by rail has unfortunately led to a number of incidents across the country in addition to the aforementioned events in Pennsylvania.  For instance, this summer, a derailment and subsequent explosion of crude tanker cars resulted in a deadly accident in Quebec, killing 47 people.  In recent months, oil trains have derailed in Alabama and North Dakota causing explosions after cars ruptured and spilled oil.  

The recent events in Pennsylvania and others across the country raise serious questions that need to be looked at to prevent future accidents. Increased transparency and stronger rules that restrict the speed that freight trains travel while hauling hazardous materials can help prevent future derailments while improving the safety of Pennsylvanians and ensuring efficient transportation of goods and services.

To that end, I commend you for your work to date with the rail industry and other key stakeholders on the issue of rail safety.  Moving forward, I believe that concrete steps must be taken to examine the effectiveness of speed reductions and, where possible and feasible, rerouting of trains.  Moreover, it is vital that local officials and emergency workers are equipped to adequately respond to derailments.  Additionally, steps must be taken to make rail cars safer and to ensure greater transparency in the transportation of hazardous materials.

In order to achieve these goals, I urge you to work with the rail industry to put in place strong safeguards that protect communities while allowing the flow of commerce to continue. Specifically, I urge the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to ensure carriers that transport hazardous materials have sufficient procedures in place to reduce the risk of derailments.  FRA and PHMSA should also take action to ensure that hazardous materials are properly classified during transportation.  Finally, steps must be taken to ensure that resources are available to allow emergency management professionals to effectively respond to any accidents.

I look forward to working with you to improve freight rail safety both in Pennsylvania and across the country.

Sincerely,

Robert P. Casey Jr.

United States Senator

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