News > News > Preserve River Ecology > Crude Oil Transport > Response to Department of Transportation’s Toothless Emergency Order Regarding “Bomb Trains”

Response to Department of Transportation’s Toothless Emergency Order Regarding “Bomb Trains”

For Immediate Release: April 17, 2015

Contact:Cliff Weathers, Communications Director, Riverkeeper
914-478-4501, Ext. 239

Matt Krogh, Director, Extreme Oil Campaign, ForestEthics

Riverkeeper and ForestEthics Respond to Department of Transportation’s Toothless Emergency Order Regarding “Bomb Trains”

Advocacy groups call on the DOT to do much more to prevent oil-by-rail disasters.

OSSINING, NY— The Department of Transportation just issued an emergency order requiring trains transporting certain types of crude oil to slow down to 40 mph in certain agency-defined large urban areas. The speed limit in the emergency order is less protective than what BSNF, one of the nation’s largest railroad companies, has already imposed on its own trains system-wide.

By releasing this emergency order late in the afternoon on Friday, it seems that the order is timed to fly under the media’s radar. It also says something about the anticipated effect of the order – which doesn’t even set a speed limit at what is becoming the new industry minimum, 35 mph. It is yet another missed opportunity for the federal regulators to take action to protect people, property, and natural resources from catastrophic disasters.

“The emergency order only applies to a few dozen metropolitan areas nationwide and does not apply to most of the rail system used for oil-by-rail transport,” noted Sean Dixon, staff attorney at Riverkeeper. “It is not adequate to deal with the risk that trains may impose on people and the environment, does not take into account track conditions and crumbling infrastructure (including bridges over water resources), and entirely, explicitly, and incredulously ignores the majority of the nation – the smaller cities and suburbs and rural areas through which these trains travel.”

Moreover, a 40 mph speed limit through major metropolitan areas does little to protect those areas. The tank cars now carrying volatile crude are only rated to withstand puncture at speeds around 10-15 mph, and even enhanced tankers under consideration would only withstand punctures up to 20 mph, half of what the DOT is proposing for public safety.

“At a basic level, we would hope to see our agencies create a speed limit no faster than the crash rating of the cars themselves. With the best expected cars in the upcoming rulemaking having a puncture velocity less than 20 mph, seeing an ‘improved’ speed limit of 40 mph in high threat urban areas is disappointing,” said Matt Krogh, Director, Extreme Oil Campaign, ForestEthics.

Even the National Transportation Safety Board says that “catastrophic tank car ruptures can occur at speeds below even 10 mph.” The NTSB, in official agency comments to the DOT in late 2014, noted that it fundamentally “disagree[s] with [the DOT’s] plan to set speed limits based on general population size. Instead, speed limits should be based on the population that is close enough to a derailment involving a flammable material to be in harm’s way.

This is a missed opportunity by the DOT. There was much the department failed to do:

· It could have placed probation on the DOT-111’s and CPC 1232’s – tanker cars that have exploded on impact.

· It could have called for an immediate inspection of rail bridges.

· It could have imposed a weight and length limit on trains carrying crude oil.

· It could have required larger crew sizes for trains transporting crude oil.

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