Merkley, Wyden, Feinstein and Boxer Call on DOT to Provide More Hazmat Train Information to First Responders

Washington, D.C.  – Oregon’s U.S. Senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, were joined today by California’s U.S. Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, in pressing the Department of Transportation to require that first responders be notified before trains carrying 20 or more carloads of crude oil, ethanol or other flammable liquids travel through their communities.

In 15 pages of comments submitted to the rulemaking docket, the senators identified shortfalls and inconsistencies in DOT’s current proposal, which only covers trains carrying 35 cars (1,000,000 gallons) or more of oil from the Bakken region centered in North Dakota. In an accompanying letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, the senators called for an existing emergency order regarding advanced notification be immediately expanded to cover any trains carrying 20 carloads or more of crude oil, ethanol and some 71 other flammable liquids transported by railroads.

“We believe railroads should supply first responders with more transparent information about crude-by-rail and other flammable liquid shipments traveling through communities in Oregon, California, and other states across the nation,” the senators wrote. “Doing so would reduce the public health and environmental dangers these shipments pose by allowing for better emergency planning, training and coordination between local, state and federal authorities, as well as the private sector, which plays an important role in responding to transportation accidents.”

The senators cited information and concerns sent to Merkley and Wyden from the National Transportation Safety Board in June, when the NTSB urged more timely and detailed information to better protect communities from potential accidents involving crude oil and other hazardous materials.

Underscoring the need to increase transparency requirements, two serious accidents would not have met the current threshold for reporting requirements: a 2008 train derailment of 13 cars carrying hazardous materials in Oklahoma and an accident in Ohio, where 49 hazardous materials cars derailed – but only 18 of which counted toward the DOT’s advanced notification standard. Both accidents resulted in fiery explosions that required the evacuation of nearby residents.

The senators stressed the urgency of revising the current requirements, noting that ethanol and oil shipments have increased from 75,000 carloads in 2005 to more than 700,000 last year, including substantial volumes of oil produced outside the Bakken region.

Crude-by-rail shipments from New Mexico to California have more than tripled since last May, when refineries rejected a proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline in favor of railroad shipments. Likewise, Oregon communities are seeing a growing volume of Utah and Canadian oil transported through towns, cities and rural areas, including many of the state’s scenic and environmentally sensitive rivers.

Senators Merkley and Wyden have previously called on the DOT to increase the amount of information shared with State Emergency Response Commissions and met with first responders in Oregon to hear input from local officials on public safety.

Read the letter to DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx here and the full comments to the DOT here.