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Rail News: Safety

Sixteen senators call on Appropriations Committee to create crude-by-rail safety fund


Sixteen U.S. senators on Friday sent a letter to the Senate Committee on Appropriations urging members to create a Safe Transportation of Energy Products Fund that would address existing and emerging safety issues related to transporting crude oil and other energy products by rail. The senators also called for increased investments for inspection personnel.

Led by Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), the senators who signed the letter were Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Angus King (I-Maine), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and John Walsh (D-Mont.).

As the Senate Appropriations Committee begins consideration of the fiscal-year 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, the senators ask that committee members support new funding for a Safe Transportation of Energy Products Fund, which also was requested by President Barack Obama in his FY2015 budget. The fund would help ensure the safety of rail transported energy products, such as crude from the Bakken Shale, that largely originate in the Midwest, the senators wrote.

The U.S. rail system has registered a 6,000 percent increase in crude-by-rail traffic since 2007, driven largely by significant increases in energy development from the Bakken in North Dakota and Montana, they wrote.

"Railroads transport approximately one-tenth of U.S. crude oil output — approximately 800,000 barrels per day," the senators said. "In light of several tragic accidents involving crude-by-rail trains — including the most recent derailment and explosion of tanker cars carrying crude oil near Casselton, North Dakota — communities stretching across our country from the Midwest to coastal ports and refineries are rightly concerned about the safe movement of these combustible products."

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) currently is working to improve design and safety standards for DOT-111 tank cars that transport Bakken crude and other hazardous materials. Providing full funding for the Safe Transportation and Energy Products Fund is one way to support PHMSA in finalizing and implementing new rules governing the use of DOT-111 cars, as well as establishing a new, hardened tank-car standard for hauling crude, the senators wrote.

"The resurgence of American oil and natural gas production has created new opportunities, but also new challenges. Americans need to have confidence that transport safety issues are being addressed comprehensively," they wrote.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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