Wyden, Schumer, Feinstein, Casey, Merkley, Brown, Warner Introduce Bill to Protect Communities from Oil Train Accidents

Washington, D.C. – Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Bob Casey, D-Penn., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Mark Warner, D-Va., today introduced legislation to protect local communities by getting unsafe oil trains off the tracks and giving firefighters and other first responders in local communities the resources they need if accidents do happen. 

The Hazardous Materials Rail Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2015 would reduce risks to communities near railroad tracks by speeding up the phase-out of older tank cars and encouraging companies to replace them with newer, safer cars. The bill also would place a $175 per shipment fee on older tank cars with widely known safety risks that are used to ship crude oil and other hazardous materials and makes available a tax credit for companies that upgrade the newer cars to the highest required safety standard. 

The bill would use the revenue raised by the fee to help communities and first responders be better prepared in the event of a rail accident. It would establish a dedicated fund for clean-up costs of oil train accidents, advanced training for first responders, and grant money for states and cities to reroute rail tracks carrying large volumes of hazardous materials away from highly populated areas. 

“It’s time for the Department of Transportation to push faster and more aggressively to make oil-by-rail transportation safer,” Wyden said. “This legislation takes a market-based approach to get unsafe cars off the tracks and safer cars on the tracks more quickly.”

“We need an all-of-the-above approach when it comes to phasing out these dangerous and old tank cars,” Schumer said. “That is why I will continue to push OMB and DOT to release a tough, comprehensive tank-car standard. Partnering that new standard with this tank-car safety bill, which creates a financial incentive to phase out these dangerous cars, will help to ensure that they are more rapidly removed from the rails and our communities.” 

“As more and more crude oil is moved across the country by train, the risk of catastrophic accidents grows,” Feinstein said. “We must implement the strongest possible safety standards, including the use of the safest tank cars.  This bill, which helps get outdated and dangerous tank cars off the tracks, is one important way we can help keep our communities safe.”

“This legislation will help get older, potentially unsafe cars off the rails, along with providing funding for increased fire responder training,” Casey said. “Too many communities across Pennsylvania have had to deal with train derailments. It’s important for residents to have the peace of mind in knowing that the necessary actions are being taken to improve safety on our nation’s railways. This legislation will be a step in that direction.” 

“Oil trains are rolling explosion hazards placing Oregon’s communities at great risk,” Merkley said. “It is imperative that we quickly drive the replacement of poorly-designed cars as part of the solution, and also fund our first responders. That is why this bill is so important.”

“We have seen too many derailments of trains with unsafe, outdated cars, yet new rules to take old cars off the tracks have languished for months,” Brown said. “It’s time to get tough on crude-by-rail safety before another accident occurs. This bill would help phase-out old cars and equip our first responders with the resources they need in the event of a derailment.” 

“Today marks exactly one year since the day an oil train derailed in downtown Lynchburg, Va. while hauling heavy Bakken crude oil, spilling 20,000 gallons of oil into the James River and sparking a tremendous fire,” Warner said. “We were fortunate that no one was killed or injured in that April 30, 2014 derailment. But in Virginia, we now see near-daily crude oil trains traveling from one end of the Commonwealth to the other, often through some highly populated areas. It’s critical that we get outdated and risky tank cars off the tracks, ensure that rail cars are as safe as possible for the surrounding communities, and provide local first responders with the resources they need in the event of an accident .” 

Five accidents in the past four months – including fiery explosions of tank cars – in Iowa, Illinois, West Virginia and Ontario, Canada have added to the sense of urgency to address the safety of oil-by-rail transportation.

The bill also would require the Department of Transportation to implement recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to give first responders real-time information on rail transportation, update track maintenance standards and study first responder preparedness for rail accidents involving large amounts of flammable liquids. 

The NTSB first warned in 1991 that DOT-111 cars are inadequate for transporting hazardous materials. The newer CPC-1232 tank cars have been the rail industry’s standard since 2011. However, at least six major oil train accidents over the last 16 months have involved the newer cars.

The Department of Transportation is expected to issue a new safety rule this spring requiring the phase-out of DOT-111 tank cars. The bill introduced today encourages companies to move more quickly toward converting DOT-111 to upgraded CPC-1232 cars. 

Wyden has repeatedly called on the DOT to address the shipment of oil by rail, including expanding notification requirements and speed up the issuance of the upcoming rule.