Hoeven Presses for Increased Rail Safety, Timely Action at Senate Commerce Committee Hearing

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today pressed rail industry officials and regulators for a comprehensive and timely plan to enhance safety measures for transporting petroleum products by rail. The hearing examined the current state of rail safety on the nation’s passenger and freight rail networks, including a discussion of recent rail accidents, positive train control implementation and other measure to improve rail safety.

“Producing more oil and gas is creating jobs, helping to grow our economy and making our nation more secure, but there is a real need to build the infrastructure necessary to transport that energy safely,” Hoeven said. “We need a comprehensive approach that both prevents derailments, and if a derailment occurs, that minimizes the risk of fire or explosion. Everybody has a role here – the railroads, the regulators and the shippers. We’ve got to work together to get this done.

“That means making sure we have enough inspectors, that we have properly designed tanker cars and that the railroads accurately identify their products and use the safest routes to deliver them. While we do all we can to prevent an accident, we also need to ensure that we have properly trained responders when an accident occurs.”

Testifying at the hearing were Joseph Szabo, Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration; Cynthia Quarterman, Administrator, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration; Christopher Hart, Vice Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board; Geoffrey Blackwell, Chief, Office of Native Affairs and Policy, Federal Communications Commission; Prentiss Searles, American Petroleum Institute; and Ed Hamberger, President and Chief Executive Officer, Association of American Railroads.

Key points Hoeven pressed at the hearing include:

  • Adequate staff and resources for inspections. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Hoeven secured support for an additional 45 inspectors at the FRA, and asked what other steps FRA is taking in terms of manpower and technology to improve inspections.
  • PHMSA testing of Bakken crude for proper classification for transport. Hoeven said it is important that the right product go in the right tanker car to maximize safety.
  • Timely rulemaking for construction of new, safer railcars. In December 2012, Hoeven wrote to PHMSA Administrator Quarterman asking her to expedite the rules governing construction of new, safer tanker cars. At today’s hearing, Hoeven pushed her to work with the railroads and shippers to get to a rule so that the industry has certainty to move to the newer cars as soon as possible. Currently, 40 percent of the tanker cars in service are the newer, safer CPC-1232 cars manufactured after 2011, and last month, the AAR said it will work to double that to 60 percent by 2015.
  • Implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology, which monitors and controls train movements to provide increased safety. The concept behind PTC is that the train receives information about its location and where it is allowed to safely travel. FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo today testified that the industry won’t complete implementation of PTC because the review process by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is taking too long. Hoeven questioned FCC’s delay in approving the siting of the 22,000 poles required to meet the congressional requirement to implement the system by 2015.

In January, Hoeven organized a meeting with Quarterman, Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who oversees PHMSA, and a group of industry leaders. The group met a week later, with Foxx, Quarterman and Szabo, as well as oil and rail industry leaders to develop strategies to prevent derailments and to reduce the risk of fire or explosions should a derailment occur.

During the past few years, Hoeven has been working closely with the various federal, state and local officials responsible for rail safety, including the FRA, U.S. Department of Transportation, PHMSA and the National Transportation Safety Board, to push for the speedy and effective implementation of long-overdue policies needed to prevent rail accidents.