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Crude-by-rail safety remained under the microscope this week, and a number of key developments occurred over the past several days.Yesterday, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its engineering lab report that analyzed the crude oil contained in tank cars on the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) train that derailed on July 6, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.As previously noted by the TSB, the test results indicate that the level of hazard posed by the crude transported in the tank cars was not accurately documented, board officials said in a press release.The TSB collected and tested samples from nine tank cars that did not derail and were pulled back to Nantes, Quebec, after the accident, and from two tank cars in Farnham, Quebec, that were part of another MMA unit train that was transporting crude of the same origin as the train that derailed.The board released the engineering lab report documenting the analysis in advance of the final investigation report, TSB officials said. A team of experts continues to be dedicated to the investigation, which is now in the report-writing phase, they said.Meanwhile, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) on Wednesday announced it fined CSX Transportation $10,000 for failing to properly report two derailments that occurred last week involving tank cars transporting crude. Under state law, rail accidents involving freight trains carrying hazardous materials must be reported to NYSDOT within one hour of the incident.On Feb. 25, CSX failed to report the derailment of a train in Kingston involving empty cars that had recently off-loaded crude, and on Feb. 28, the Class I notified NYSDOT about a derailment at Selkirk Yard involving a train loaded with crude from North Dakota two hours after it occurred, NYSDOT officials said in a press release. No oil was spilled during either incident and both remain under investigation, they said.Association of American Railroads (AAR) officials continue to stress that U.S. freight railroads are focused on improving crude-by-rail safety. The recently forged agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation to voluntary improve operating practices associated with transporting oil is one example, said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger during his recent testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power."As an industry, we have been and want to continue to be proactive about safety measures," said Hamberger. "Our action plan for moving crude oil, a model of cooperation between the railroads and the government, includes the implementation of new routing procedures for crude oil trains, speed restrictions in certain urban areas, the newest braking technology, increased track inspections and additional training resources for local emergency responders."Earlier this week, the Federal Railroad Administration announced that the overall train accident rate in 2013 dropped 1.5 percent from 2012's level."We are encouraged by statistics that show rail accidents continuing to decline, but our work will not cease. The safety of our employees, customers and communities is more than just a statistic, it is an imperative," said Hamberger. "Pursuing safety in rail operations is a never-ending process that requires constant commitment. We live and work in the same communities we serve, and we want the public to know that America's railroads are constantly looking for new and better ways to ensure their safety and ours."Nevertheless, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) plans to hold a public forum April 22-23 in Washington, D.C., to examine safety issues associated with the transportation of crude and ethanol by rail.Yesterday, the board announced the scheduling of the forum, which will explore DOT-111 tank car design, construction and crashworthiness; rail operations and risk management strategies; emergency response challenges and best practices; and federal oversight."While the soaring volumes of crude oil and ethanol traveling by rail has been good for business, there is a corresponding obligation to protect our communities and our environment," said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman in a press release.Also earlier this week, Port of Portland, Ore., officials announced the port will not proceed with any rail terminal development at this time because of insufficient answers to questions regarding crude-by-rail safety."We are following developments with interest and, where appropriate, will engage with policy makers, our community, and the transportation industry to ensure that the important issues surrounding the safe and secure transportation of these products are fully addressed," port officials said in a prepared statement. "Our interest will begin to grow once we have the confidence that transportation of crude oil by rail continues to meet all state, federal and local transportation rules and regulations, and exhibits a sufficient accident-free record for a sustained period of time."
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