Private Sector Takes Lead on Crude-by-Rail Safety

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 11: Anthony Foxx speaks after being ceremonially sworn in as Transportation Secretary, at the U.S. Department of Transportation, July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC. Foxx, the former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, was officially sworn in on July 2 and is the 17th Secretary of Transportation in U.S. history. 
National Journal
Clare Foran
Add to Briefcase
Clare Foran
Jan. 16, 2014, 9:40 a.m.

Fed­er­al reg­u­lat­ors an­nounced Thursday that the rail and en­ergy in­dus­tries will take steps to im­prove the safety of crude-by-rail ship­ments in the wake of a string of re­cent ac­ci­dents.

Both in­dus­tries will work to de­term­ine if im­prove­ments to ex­ist­ing As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ic­an Rail­road tank-car stand­ards are needed to im­prove rail safety, Trans­port­a­tion Sec­ret­ary An­thony Foxx told re­port­ers dur­ing a press call.

The sec­ret­ary did not elab­or­ate on how the im­prove­ments would be made.

Foxx was joined on the call by the head of the Pipeline and Haz­ard­ous Ma­ter­i­als Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Cyn­thia Quater­man, and the lead­er of the Fed­er­al Rail­road Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Joseph Sz­abo. All three of­fi­cials took part in a meet­ing on Thursday with rail, oil, and nat­ur­al-gas stake­hold­ers that was de­scribed by Foxx as a “call to ac­tion” on crude-by-rail safety.

As a res­ult of the ne­go­ti­ations, rep­res­ent­at­ives from the rail in­dustry also pledged to re­duce the speed at which tank cars car­ry­ing crude oil travel in parts of the coun­try where ac­ci­dent risk is the greatest.

The oil and gas in­dustry, for its part, plans to work with DOT to share in­form­a­tion about the con­tent and volat­il­ity of crude-oil ship­ments to in­crease trans­par­ency and aid pub­lic- and private-sec­tor ef­forts to im­prove tank-car safety.

Foxx praised in­dustry lead­ers for their will­ing­ness to un­der­take the changes.

“I was heartened to hear the in­dustry say to us that they have a strong and ves­ted in­terest in the safety of ma­ter­i­al be­ing trans­por­ted around the coun­try, par­tic­u­larly this crude oil,” Foxx said, adding, “We asked the in­dustry for some spe­cif­ic, im­me­di­ate de­liv­er­ables, and we are pleased to see the in­dustry re­spond.”

The press brief­ing came one day after Sen. John Ho­even, R-N.D., cri­ti­cized the de­part­ment for not mov­ing quickly enough to fi­nal­ize rail-car safety reg­u­la­tions.

“We are con­cerned that un­less DOT provides guid­ance soon­er, the timeline will be too long for in­dustry to trans­ition to new­er, safer tank cars in a timely way,” the sen­at­or said in a state­ment in re­sponse to a no­tice from the de­part­ment that new reg­u­la­tions were not likely to be fi­nal­ized un­til 2015.

When asked wheth­er DOT can do any­thing to fast-track the rule­mak­ing, Foxx replied, “We will con­tin­ue to move as quickly as we can “¦ [but] what we are try­ing to deal with here is a com­pre­hens­ive strategy that con­tains a heavy dose of pre­ven­tion.”

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er verion of this story stated that the rail and oil and nat­ur­al gas in­dus­tries would make safety im­prove­ments to tank cars with­in thirty days. 

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