Train derailments carrying crude oil has become a hot topic in North Dakota these days and the state’s congressional delegation is urging action on recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) meant to reduce the risk.
In releasing the recommendations Thursday, U.S. and Canadian accident investigators warned that a “major loss of life” could result from an accident involving the increasing use of trains to transport large amounts of crude oil.
The board forwarded three recommendations to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration.
The first calls for better route planning for rail lines shipping hazardous materials, to avoid populated and environmentally sensitive areas.
Investigators also recommend requiring shippers and rail lines to have plans for responding to a spill or incident. And they call for proper classification of hazardous materials with a safety and security plan in place for all shipments.
The recommendations were a joint effort of the NTSB and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada in response to the July 2013 derailment and explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people in the town of Lac-Megantic.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx met with oil and railroad executives last week, pressing them to come up with voluntary changes in the way oil ends up transported to increase safety. He asked industry officials to report back to him within 30 days.
Edward Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads, reaffirmed the freight rail industry’s commitment to moving oil safely.
Jack Koraleski, chief executive of Union Pacific, the nation’s largest freight railroad, said the railroad industry already plans to begin treating crude oil like a toxic chemical and carefully plan out the safest routes possible using existing federal rules for the most hazardous chemicals. He said the decision was a result of the meeting with Foxx.
Concerns over safety in light of rapidly expanding rail shipping of crude oil have grown even more prevalent following a November derailment in rural Alabama and a fiery wreck near Casselton last month.
The tanker cars in the Casselton and Lac-Megantic wrecks were of the DOT-111 model, a model that could be more susceptible to rupturing in accidents.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., welcomed the recommendations in a statement. She said they’re in line with what she and the state’s delegation have been pushing for.
Public safety is paramount and rail safety is a national issue, said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.
North Dakota Pipeline Authority figures show oil exports by rail increased from about 100,000 barrels per day in October 2010 to nearly 780,000 barrels per day this past November.
The NTSB said crude oil shipments by rail increased by more than 400 percent since 2005. Some oil trains are more than 100 cars long.
The railroad association said early data incidate the number of rail carloads of crude topped 400,000 last year.