Hoeven Working to Improve Rail Safety for Crude Oil Shipments

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven, a member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, said he is working with colleagues on the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee (T-HUD) to improve the safety of transporting crude oil by rail.

The senator said the T-HUD appropriations bill includes a number of measures to reduce the risk of accidents and to mitigate the impact of fire and explosion when they do occur. It also includes a provision requiring a date certain for new rules for tanker car construction to give industry the regulatory certainty they need to invest in safer, more modern rail tanker cars.

“Rail safety begins with the rails, which means we need more inspectors, more inspections and more technology to monitor rail conditions and train movement,” Hoeven said. “The measures we’re including in the T-HUD bill will help to prevent accidents in the first place, and to mitigate their impact when they do occur.”

Hoeven underscored the importance of including these measures in letter he sent earlier this year to T-HUD Subcommittee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-Maine). The complete text of Hoeven’s letter can be found here.

The T-HUD appropriations bill makes important investments at the Department of Transportation (DOT) to improve the safety of energy shipments. The Fiscal Year 2015 DOT funding highlights includes:

  • Final Rules for Tank Car Construction – The bill directs the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to finalize tank car regulations no later than October 1, 2014. Hoeven first asked PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman to expedite the rules governing construction of new, safer tanker cars in December 2012.
  • More Inspectors – The bill provides funds to hire 20 new rail and hazardous materials inspectors, and it fully pays for the 45 new rail safety positions that were provided in Fiscal Year 2014. Inspectors ensure compliance with federal safety standards for the safe transportation of energy products and other hazardous materials.
  • More Track Inspections – The bill provides $3 million to expand the use of automated track inspections to ensure proper track maintenance on crude oil routes, covering 14,000 miles of track nationwide.
  • Improving Short Line Rail Safety – Short line railroads, which typically serve smaller local areas, nevertheless operate on more than 50,000 miles of track, one-third of the national railroad network. The T-HUD bill supports the establishment of a Short Line Safety Institute to perform safety compliance assessments and safety training for short line railroads that transport crude oil.
  • Improving Classification of Materials – The bill provides funding for research activities related to the testing of crude oil to determine the most appropriate test criteria, sampling methods and testing procedures for energy products. This will also help to identify any existing regulatory safety gaps with respect to classification and the correct selection of packing group.
  • Enhanced Training – The Committee recommendation includes funding for a web-based hazardous materials emergency response training curriculum to train public-sector emergency response personnel based on or near rail lines that transport significant amounts of high-risk energy products or toxic inhalation hazards. Web-based curricula are an important tool for many tribes and public sector emergency response personnel, particularly in rural areas, to get the training they need.

Since meeting with DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx following the Casselton crude-oil tanker car derailment in late December, Hoeven has been working with industry and government officials at all levels including the Federal Railroad Administration, DOT, PHMSA and the National Transportation Safety Board to push for the speedy and effective implementation of policies needed to make transporting oil and gas by rail safer.

Many of these elements are included in the T-HUD appropriations bill, including increased inspectors and track inspections, making sure products are shipped in the right containers, implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology, which monitors and controls train movements to provide increased safety, enhanced emergency response training and issuing guidelines for safer tanker car construction.

In April Hoeven hosted Foxx and the other stakeholders in Casselton to help advance a comprehensive approach to transporting crude oil safely by rail.