Lawmakers Drill Down on Crude-by-Rail Safety

US Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, speaks to reporters November 30, 2011 on the Keystone XL pipeline on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
Feb. 6, 2014, 11:54 a.m.

Sen­at­ors will fo­cus on crude-by-rail safety next week in a hear­ing that ar­rives on the heels of a fed­er­al in­vest­ig­a­tion in­dic­at­ing that im­prop­er la­beling and pack­aging of crude-oil rail ship­ments may be wide­spread.

Sen­ate Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man Jay Rock­e­feller said Thursday that the Feb. 13 hear­ing be­fore the Sur­face Trans­port­a­tion and Mer­chant Mar­ine In­fra­struc­ture, Safety, and Se­cur­ity Sub­com­mit­tee will fo­cus on pas­sen­ger and freight rail safety.

Risks in­volved in ship­ping crude oil in rail cars are sure to come up as well. Ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease an­noun­cing the hear­ing, sub­com­mit­tee mem­bers will dis­cuss “re­cent high-pro­file rail ac­ci­dents, pos­it­ive train con­trol im­ple­ment­a­tion and oth­er key safety chal­lenges.”

Rail safety has been the sub­ject of heightened scru­tiny in re­cent months fol­low­ing a series of de­rail­ments in­volving tank cars car­ry­ing crude oil sourced from North Dakota’s Bakken Form­a­tion. In Decem­ber, a train car­ry­ing crude ran off the tracks in Cas­selton, N.D., spark­ing a massive fire­ball and an ex­plo­sion.

Sen. John Ho­even, R-N.D., said in an in­ter­view that fed­er­al reg­u­lat­ors will be present at the hear­ing along with stake­hold­ers from the rail and en­ergy in­dus­tries.

Ho­even also said that he hopes fund­ing can be found for the Trans­port­a­tion De­part­ment to provide more rail and crude-ship­ment safety in­spec­tions.

“This is an ex­tremely im­port­ant is­sue right now and we’ve got to make sure this is safe,” Ho­even said. “We’re work­ing on the fisc­al year 2015 ap­pro­pri­ations bill on the Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee, so I’ll work to make sure there’s fund­ing for more track in­spect­ors in the De­part­ment of Trans­port­a­tion budget.”

Ho­even be­lieves his bid to in­crease in­spec­tions will win sup­port from fed­er­al reg­u­lat­ors and mem­bers of Con­gress.

“There’s a re­cog­ni­tion that we’re mov­ing a lot more crude by rail and we all need to work to­geth­er to min­im­ize the risk of fire or an ex­plo­sion, and that means mak­ing sure that the tracks are safe and mak­ing sure that things are loaded and shipped prop­erly,” he said.

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