DOT Proposes Strict Oil-Train Safety Rules

Speed restrictions, braking requirements and new rail car design part of proposal.
July 24, 2014

WASHINGTON – Spurred by a boom in oil-carrying trains and several recent accidents, the Obama administration is now proposing stricter rules for rail cars that transport flammable fuels. Yesterday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced new speed limits for trains carrying flammable fuels, tougher braking requirements, mandatory testing of oil and other volatile liquids, and new design standards for rail cars, while phasing out older cars that do not meet the new standards.

As U.S. oil production soars, shipments of oil by rail have skyrocketed and several derailments have raised safety concerns. Members of Congress have held hearings urged the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue tougher rules, citing the surge in rail traffic.

According to a report in USA Today, Foxx expressed particular concern about oil produced in the Bakken shale region of North Dakota and Montana, saying it tends to be more volatile and may be improperly classified by shippers as less flammable than it is.

The DOT proposal, which will take months to finalize, applies to shipments with at least 20 rail cars carrying flammable fuels, including ethanol. It's the latest of several DOT efforts, including a requirement issued in May that trains carrying more than a million gallons of oil notify local emergency responders when those shipments travel through their states. The DOT is currently requesting public comment on speed restrictions included in the proposal.