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Blog post by Matt Krogh, ForestEthics' Tar Sands SOS Campaign Director.

Today after months of study and, unfortunately, time spent listening to the oil industry, President Obama proposed weak new standards for oil trains. How weak? Well, they give the oil industry a license to continue threatening the safety of millions of Americans with hazardous, flammable oil trains.

I’d hoped that when these proposed regulations were announced they would be a step in the right direction — getting dangerous exploding tank cars off the tracks, rerouting trains around population centers, and giving communities the ability to say no. Especially since the nationwide danger of oil train routes is so clearly visible. But, the administration instead prioritized the oil industry's agenda to barrel dangerous tank cars through our cities and by our homes, leaving communities and emergency responders high and dry.

So, what are the problems with these new rules? Find out after the jump:

1. There is no "opt out" choice: Our railroad infrastructure was built to carry goods between population centers, not haul hazardous flammable crude oil. Communities have the right to choose if they will accept three million gallons of explosive oil per train speeding through downtown, past homes, schools, stadiums, and drinking water supplies. Right now nearly every downtown in North America, more than 25 million people, need the right to say no.

2. Rusting tanker car ban: In June 2014 Canada immediately banned the worst 5,000 tank cars used for flammables, but the best America can do is a multi-year phase out with industry exemptions? We need to see old standard tank cars banned today. Not in two years. Not in six years. No caveats. Right now.

3. Emergency notification: Notification rules apply to trains with 35 tanker cars or more, but even a single burning tanker car is far more fire than any municipal fire department can handle. The rules don’t change the fact that all first responders can do with a burning oil train is evacuate those within a half mile or more of the track, wait and watch until the train burns itself out.

4. Brakes: The rules invite us to specify if we want tank cars with the good brakes or not. Seriously? Hint to the Obama Administration: Yes, we'll go with the upgraded brakes.

5. Speed limits: Meaningful speed restrictions are only proposed for some populated areas, with 30 mph speed limits in a few select urban areas -- but still 50 mph through small towns! If speed helps with safety (and we know it does) why aren't we talking about slowing these trains down everywhere?

6. Derailing: The speed limits the administration is proposing aren't even close to safe, at least according to rail safety experts: "When you look at cars derailing at speeds of 30, 40 miles an hour...there's likely going to be a puncture, and in that case we need to do what we can to prevent the thermal effects." - Karl Alexy, Federal Railroad Administration, April 2014.

7. Tank car standards: There are three proposed grades of new tank cars: two are completely dangerous for any flammable liquid, while the third might be passable for hot corn oil. How about proposing a tank car that doesn't rupture, at all, at standard operating speeds above 30 mph? (Incidentally, "thermal effects" in the quote above means "tank cars lying in a blazing pool of hazardous liquid" -- oil, ethanol, you name it. Why don’t the standards require thermal protections?)

8. Routes: The routing choices they give us are (to paraphrase), a) threaten most urban centers, b) threaten thousands of small towns, and/or c) threaten rivers, lakes, and groundwater. Where is d) for none of the above? Oh yeah -- and the railroads get to keep their routing decisions secret, too.

9. Notification: There's a real logic gap in this one. Railroads are required to notify states and emergency responders about which tracks are in use for trains hauling more than a million gallons (~35 tank cars) of oil. But a High Hazard Flammable Train (that's what the secretary of transportation calls them) or HHFT is defined as having 20 or more tank cars. What makes trains with 20 to 35 tank cars dangerous enough to be an HHFT, but not important enough to warn the public about?

10. Train categorization: The new category of "high hazard flammable trains" is a terrible acronym, HHFT. "Bomb trains" is much easier.

Bonus: The administration also announced today that the Bakken crude carried in oil trains is at the "high end of volatility compared to other crude oils." Nothing in these new rules requires stabilizing the dangerous fracked shale oil from the Bakken, but they want to know if we think it's a good idea. Yes. Yes we do.

The Obama administration needs to go back to the drawing board on this one. It's time to stop listening to big oil and write some new regulations that put public safety first. The movement to stop oil by rail is growing every day and we won’t back down until we see Obama putting people over profits.


Do you think we have the right to know if highly-flammable oil is moving by rail through our communities?

82%19 votes
17%4 votes

| 23 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  #1 is federally pre-empted (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nextstep, LakeSuperior

    Local communities do not get the option of prohibiting interstate commerce.

    Furthermore, unlike the road networks, railroads are almost entirely privately built and owned.

    •  Public private partnership (0+ / 0-)

      Railroads were mainly built as a public-private partnership, and maintenance of the freight network, while mostly on the railroads themselves (who, today, pay a lot in taxes, unlike, say, oil pipeline companies spreading FUD about oil trains), does often continue to receive public subsidies in the form of ballast and rail and tie replacement, signal upgrades, track access payments, bridge replacements and so on. This is especially true of regional or short line railroads.

      Note: some of the funding in recent decades has come in return for passenger service. But not always.

  •  You said: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    7. Tank car standards: There are three proposed grades of new tank cars: two are completely dangerous for any flammable liquid, while the third might be passable for hot corn oil. How about proposing a tank car that doesn't rupture, at all, at standard operating speeds above 30 mph? (Incidentally, "thermal effects" in the quote above means "tank cars lying in a blazing pool of hazardous liquid" -- oil, ethanol, you name it. Why don’t the standards require thermal protections?)
    No one should take your #7 statement on face value from what you have here.   You have not explained any of the basis for these #7 statements that you're making.   If you are trying to make out a case of a series of defective engineering decisions by DOT about this matter, then you should be stating a physical basis for each of your counterclaims and criticisms.   You have not done anything like that.

    You haven't explained or specified a numerical basis for your determination of what is 'dangerous' and what is not and why you state that to be the case.

    •  In making a science-based criticism of (0+ / 0-)

      an engineering decision by someone else, you should at least summarize that decision by DOT, and then explain -- point by point - why it is wrong.

      •  Seconded (0+ / 0-)

        There may be deficiencies in the proposed standards, but it would help to have a basic knowledge of railroading.

        I'm a little frustrated right now with what's going on with the oil transportation debate where the pipefitters have an animosity towards the railroads (and environmentalists) in a sort of zero-sum, "they took our jobs" mentality. Railroads have crafts and unions too! And US railroad workers' unions have been more successful than Canadian ones in fighting back safety-eviscerating cost-cutting measures. So could Lac Mégantic happen here? Well, it could, but we have a much stricter safety regime than Canada does already. So let's stay vigilant.

        Contra the OP, when you look at actual derailments in the US, many of them occurred on low speed tracks where exceeding posted track speed was not a factor. Railroads are not an interstate with rails, legally or physically.

        And it's the customers who own the railroad cars in the US, not the railroads, so please direct your ire where it's due. If the US is moving too slowly and too softly on this it's due to lobbying by the same oil companies who are attempting to astroturf for pipelines in progressive and labor circles.

      •  Supporting sources would be helpful (0+ / 0-)

        and it generally a good thing to show evidence supporting your conclusions.

        “Industry does everything they can and gets away with it almost all the time, whether it’s the coal industry, not the subject of this hearing, or water or whatever. They will cut corners, and they will get away with it. " Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D, WVa

        by FishOutofWater on Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 01:31:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Problem is the oil, not the transportation (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Metric Only, Hoghead99

    If it's not railroads, it's more pipelines running through farms and watersheds.

    The oil needs to stay in the ground. If we don't reduce the oil coming out of the ground, we've lost the planet, and the spot damage from oil spills is tragic local disasters, while the planet burns.

    "Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everybody gets busy on the proof.” ― John Kenneth Galbraith

    by Urban Owl on Sat Jul 26, 2014 at 01:29:30 PM PDT

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