Railroads, regulators adopt curbs on shipping crude oil

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WASHINGTON -- The railroad industry and federal transportation regulators have agreed to reduce the speed limit for freight trains carrying crude oil.

The announcement, which also included an agreement to increase the frequency of track inspections, came Friday, eight days after the derailment of a Norfolk Southern Railway train spilled about 4,000 gallons of crude oil in Vandergrift in Westmoreland County.

That Western Pennsylvania incident was part of a recent string of oil-car derailments, including ones in Philadelphia, North Dakota and Alabama. Those incidents led members of Congress, including Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., to seek action.

"Two train derailments in Pennsylvania in less than a month are alarming and require immediate attention," Mr. Casey wrote Thursday to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "It is crucial for the Department of Transportation to use all resources at its disposal to keep our communities safe by reducing the likelihood of similar incidents in the future."

Mr. Casey said Friday that he was pleased that the department, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration had reached an agreement with the Association of American Railroads.

The agreement limits speeds to 40 mph in high-threat urban areas for trains with 20 or more crude oil tanks if even one of the tank cars is an older model DOT-111. DOT-111s make up nearly 70 percent of the U.S. fleet, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

There are 46 federally designated high-threat urban areas, including 10-mile radii around both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Trains carrying 20 or more crude oil tanks also must employ braking systems that allow crews to apply brakes from both ends of the train to stop quickly in emergencies.

Other changes apply to routes traveled by trains carrying at least 20 carloads of crude oil. They call for increased track inspections and improvements to rail traffic routing technology and better emergency-response planning. The industry also agreed to provide $5 million to provide rail training to 1,500 first-responders this year.

"Safety is a shared responsibility among all energy-supply-chain stakeholders," Edward R. Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, said in a statement. "We will continue to work with our safety partners ... to find even more ways to reinforce public confidence in the rail industry's ability to safely meet the increased demand to move crude oil."

Most crude oil is still transported through pipelines, but more and more is being transported by rail, according to Mr. Hamberger's association. That has translated into more accidents, including a July derailment and subsequent explosion that killed 47 people in Quebec.


Bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 1-703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.

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