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Major U.S. freight railroads and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) on Friday announced the rail industry is launching a safety initiative aimed at instituting new voluntary operating practices for moving crude oil by rail.The announcement follows consultations between railroads represented by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the USDOT, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). While the initiative will focus on crude-by-rail operations, additional issues relating to the safe transport of crude oil — such as tank-car standards and proper shipper classification of crude — will be addressed separately, AAR and USDOT officials said in a press release.Through the initiative, railroads plan to take the following steps:• Effective March 25, they will perform at least one additional internal rail inspection each year above those required by new FRA regulations on mainlines used by trains moving 20 or more carloads of crude oil. They also will conduct at least two high-tech track geometry inspections each year on those mainline routes. Current federal regulations do not require comprehensive track geometry inspections.• No later than April 1, they will equip all trains moving 20 or more carloads of crude oil with either distributed power or two-way telemetry end-of-train devices, which enable train crews to apply emergency brakes from both ends of the train to stop faster.• No later than July 1, they will begin using the Rail Corridor Risk Management System (RCRMS) analytical tool to aid in the determination of the safest and most secure routes for trains moving 20 or more cars of crude. Developed in coordination with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, PHMSA and FRA, the RCRMS is used by railroads in the routing of security sensitive materials. The tool takes into account 27 risk factors to help assess safety and security, including volume, trip length, population density along a route, local emergency response capability, track quality and signal systems.• No later than July 1, they will operate trains moving 20 or more cars of crude that include at least one older DOT-111 tank car no faster than 40 mph in the federally designated 46 high-threat urban areas. In the meantime, they will continue to operate those trains at the industry-imposed speed limit of 50 mph.• They will continue to work with communities through which crude oil trains move to address location-specific concerns.• No later than July 1, they will begin installing additional wayside wheel bearing detectors if they are not already in place every 40 miles along tracks.• By July 1, they will provide $5 million to develop a specialized crude-by-rail training and tuition assistance program for local first responders, including training in the field and at the Transportation Technology Center Inc. in Pueblo, Colo. The funding will provide program development and tuition assistance for an estimated 1,500 first responders in 2014.• By July 1, they will develop an inventory of emergency response resources for responding to the release of large amounts of crude along routes used by trains moving 20 or more cars of oil. The inventory will include locations for the staging of emergency response equipment and, where appropriate, contacts for the notification of communities. When the inventory is completed, railroads will provide the USDOT with information on the deployment of the resources and make the information available upon request to appropriate emergency responders.“We have worked together to swiftly pinpoint new operating practices that enhance the safety of moving crude oil by rail,” said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger. "We will continue to work with our safety partners – including regulators, our employees, our customers and the communities through which we operate – to find even more ways to reinforce public confidence in the rail industry’s ability to safely meet the increased demand to move crude oil.”The operating changes will enhance safety while the USDOT continues to pursue a comprehensive approach focused on prevention, mitigation and emergency response through collaboration, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx."We will continue to be guided by our safety imperative and will engage all stakeholders as additional measures are proposed," he said. "Until such time, the [railroads'] commitments taken together will start to further enhance safety immediately." BNSF Railway Co. officials strongly support the new voluntary commitments to further reduce risks in moving crude by rail, they said in a statement."The rail industry plays a critical role in helping the U.S. and North American economies achieve energy independence, and this crude oil safety initiative will enable that to continue to develop with even greater safety," they said.Railroads plan to continue working with the federal government and shippers to address tank-car standards and proper shipper classification and labeling of oil moving by rail. PHMSA is currently reviewing public comments on increasing federal tank-car standards.
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