Washington, DC- After calling on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to implement new safety standards in the wake of two train derailments in Pennsylvania, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) announced today that the DOT will issue a new Emergency Order and Safety Advisory to all railroads and shippers requiring that they take additional safety precautions regarding the transport of Bakken crude oil. The new standards will require railroads to immediately notify State Emergency Response Commissions about the operation of trains carrying Bakken crude oil through their states.
“These new rules are a step in the right direction and have the potential to increase safety in communities where these rail cars pass through,” said Senator Casey. “It’s important that the Department of Transportation continue to take steps to issue strong, enforceable safety rules to increase public awareness about what’s being shipped through their communities and ensure that companies are taking the necessary precautions to guard these materials.”
Previously, Senator Casey called on the DOT to move forward on a plan to increase safety standards on rail carriers who transport hazardous materials, including proper disclosure of what is being carried. Senator Casey’s letter to the DOT calling for reforms can be found below:
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.
Robert P. Casey Jr.
United States Senator