Responding to Merkley’s Call to Improve Oil Train Safety, DOT Announces Proposed New Rules

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After months of pressure by Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, other legislators, and advocates around the country, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced today that the Department of Transportation (DOT) will take steps to establish new regulations to improve the safe transportation of crude oil by rail. 

Since the release of an emergency order by DOT in May setting transportation safety standards of Bakken crude by rail, Senator Merkley has called for better notification to state and local first responders of not only Bakken crude, but all flammable substances being transported by rail. Much of the crude oil currently traveling through Oregon by rail is coming from regions outside the Bakken and is therefore currently not covered by the emergency order.  The proposed new regulations would extend those precautions to all trains carrying 20 or more tank carloads of either crude or ethanol.  It would potentially mandate safer tank cars and set restrictions on train speed.

“Oil trains pose significant risks, and today’s announcement is a step in the right direction toward preventing potential future disasters and keeping our rails and communities safe,” Merkley said.  “I am concerned, however, that the proposed rules fail to provide adequate information to emergency responders and local governments.  More work needs to be done.  Oregonians and other Americans shouldn’t have to worry that trains coming through their towns are rolling explosion hazards.”

Last year, more than 11 million barrels of oil were transported by rail through Oregon, compared to almost 3 million barrels in 2012 – an increase of about 250 percent. Crude-by-rail shipments have risen rapidly, and North American rail networks are now crowded with oil trains crisscrossing the continent, passing through communities like Lac Megantic, near Quebec, where 47 people died from an oil train explosion last year. In just the past year there have been four oil train accidents involving a total of 126 individual tank cars.

Secretary Foxx announced that DOT will open up a 60-day public comment period to allow input on its proposed rules.