Casey urges better training of responders to oil train incidents
March 13, 2015 11:32 PM
Crews work to clear tanker cars from the tracks Feb. 18 in Mount Carbon, W.Va.
By Jon Schmitz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Replacing tens of thousands of explosion-prone rail cars that carry crude oil will be a “long and difficult process,” Sen. Bob Casey said Friday in urging improved training and equipment for emergency responders.
Appearing at the Allegheny County Courthouse with public safety officials from Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and Westmoreland County, Mr. Casey, D-Pa., touted legislation that would bring emergency managers and technical experts together to review training, resources, procedures and unmet needs.
He also called on his congressional colleagues to do “less preaching and more appropriating” on the issue of oil train safety.
“This is an issue that confronts not only southwestern Pennsylvania, but it goes all the way across the state,” Mr. Casey said. “This is a statewide and national challenge that we are just beginning to get our arms around.”
Derailments of oil trains have caused several explosions and fires in the past few years, including one last month in West Virginia. Sixty to 70 oil trains pass through the Pittsburgh region each week, carrying crude from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota to East Coast refineries, city public safety director Stephen Bucar said.
Explosions have involved an older-model tank car called the DOT-111 and an upgraded model, the CPC 1232, that was thought to be safer.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to issue new safety regulations for oil shipments in May. Mr. Casey said he has written leaders of the DOT and the Office of Management and Budget urging them “to get that new policy out the door” sooner.
Mr. Casey’s legislation, called the RESPONSE Act, would establish a subcommittee of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to address training of first responders, especially those in smaller communities who haven’t had access to advanced training or equipment.
The subcommittee “would be tasked with bringing together all the relevant agencies, emergency responders, technical experts and the private sector for a review of training, resources, best practices and unmet needs related to emergency responders to railroad hazmat incidents,” according to briefing material. It would report its recommendations to Congress within a year.
Mr. Casey said he favors stringent new regulations for tank cars but said getting the DOT-111 out of service will be “a mighty challenge.”
“We have to insist on the best safety practices knowing it’s going to take a long time,” he said.
Roland “Bud” Mertz, Westmoreland County emergency operations director, said two major rail lines carry oil through the county, touching 41 municipalities and three-quarters of the county’s population. Fire companies in those communities are volunteer organizations that are forced to sell hoagies and fish dinners and hold bingo games to raise money, he said.
Mr. Casey said he supported provisions in this year’s omnibus spending bill that will pay for 15 new federal rail inspectors and retain 45 whose jobs were created last year. The bill has $3 million to expand automated inspections of tracks.
Jon Schmitz: email@example.com, 412-263-1868 or on Twitter @pgtraffic.
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