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Rail, Oil Industries Consider New Safety Measures

Immediate steps and long-term plans aim to improve rail transportation of crude oil

by Glenn Hess
January 24, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 4

Top officials from the railroad and oil industries have agreed to take immediate steps to improve the safety of freight trains hauling crude oil after a spate of fiery crashes in recent months.

Railroad companies will examine the feasibility of rerouting oil trains away from highly populated cities and analyze where trains can be slowed down to reduce the potential for derailments.

Also, petroleum producers will share information with federal regulators on the content of crude coming out of North Dakota’s booming Bakken oil field.

The voluntary changes, which also include improving the safety of the crude oil tank car fleet, were announced after a meeting convened earlier this month by the Department of Transportation.

“The nation’s railroads share the Administration’s sense of urgency and will collectively work to identify additional ways to make an already safe system even safer,” says Edward R. Hamberger, CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), an industry trade group.

Political pressure on the industry has been growing after a series of accidents involving oil train crashes, including the disaster at Lac-Mégantic in Quebec last July, in which 47 people were killed.

Rail transport of crude has expanded rapidly in the U.S. as the shale boom has opened up new fields that do not have adequate pipeline connections to carry the additional production to refineries.

Railroads hauled 400,000 carloads of crude oil in 2013, up from only 9,500 in 2008, according to AAR.


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