The U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday proposed an overhaul of safety standards for transporting crude oil and ethanol by rail, after a number of explosive accidents over the past year. The draft rules, which are subject to a 60-day public comment period, propose new tank-car braking systems, train-speed restrictions, more testing for volatile gases and liquids, and a two-year phase out of older tank cars that officials have said are prone to puncture and fire when derailments occur.
The rules follow an 18-month period which saw more than a dozen derailments of trains carrying crude oil, six of which led to major fires and one of which caused the death of 47 people in the Canadian town of Lac Megantic, in Quebec province.
“Today’s proposal represents our most significant progress yet in developing and enforcing new rules to ensure that all flammable liquids… are transported safely,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement.
The proposed rules called for industry feedback on several options addressing two of the most contentious issues: whether to lower speed limits for trains, a step opposed by some railroads; and upgrading specifications for rail tank-cars. Regulators also released a report showing that oil from the North Dakota Bakken region “tends to be more volatile and flammable” than other crude oil.
The transport of Bakken crude has risen sharply over the past six years as oil production outpaces the construction of new pipelines.
In the United States as a whole, rail has become central to crude oil trade since 2008, offering flexibility and cost savings for producers. Now more than more than one in ten barrels of U.S. crude is delivered on trains.