NTSB: Oil Cars Used For Bakken Rail Shipments Are "Unacceptable"

There doesn’t seem to be a timeline for tougher federal rules for cars used in oil-by-rail shipments, but a member of the National Transportation Safety Board told a House subcommittee hearing on rail safety today that the current cars are “unacceptable.”

National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt told a House subcommittee Wednesday that the cars, known as DOT-111s, were involved in derailments of oil trains in Casselton, N.D., and Lac-Megantic, Quebec, just across the U.S. border.

The NTSB has long urged replacement of the tank cars, but federal efforts to write tougher regulations for new tank cars have dragged on for two years.

Cynthia Quarterman, head of the federal hazards materials safety administration, said she expects to propose new rules this year. She had no estimate for when the rule would be final.

The preliminary NTSB report on the explosive derailment near Casselton here in North Dakota pointed the finger at rail cars that ruptured and fueled massive fireballs. And, as I’ve pointed out before, the NTSB has been expressing safety concerns about the DOT-111 tanker cars for decades now.

The issue with oil train derailments may be relatively recent, but the problems surrounding the tanker cars used to ship the oil has been sitting in the collective laps of the rail industry and federal regulators going back to the late 1980’s. Yet, despite that, there still isn’t a timeline for requiring safer cars.

Rep. Kevin Cramer appeared before the committee today (video above), and said that the problems surrounding oil by rail shipments have a lot to do with federal delays. “Two years and counting is too long for industry and communities to wait while the federal bureaucracy sets rules for modifying and/or replacing the DOT-111 Tankers,” he told the committee. “Five years and counting for the president to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline is embarrassingly long and every day the line is not built exacerbates the problem.”

Cramer didn’t go after the rail industry directly, but it should be pointed out that rail road companies don’t – and shouldn’t – need the federal government to tell them to upgrade to safer rail cars.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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