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Rail regulators target safety after derailment in early July

Keywords: Tags  crude oil, oil shipments, Federal Railroad Administration, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, American Petroleum Institute, American Association of Railroads, safety order, Cynthia Quarterman Joseph Szabo

CHICAGO — A U.S. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) committee held an emergency meeting Aug. 29 to begin considering additional regulatory or other safety measures.

"As greater quantities of hazardous materials are transported by rail and other modes, the risks increase and we have to make sure our regulations are keeping pace with market and technology forces," Cynthia Quarterman, head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said. "We have to work together to identify gaps, be willing to acknowledge them and close them."

The meeting followed a fatal derailment July 6 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in which a runaway train hauling crude oil tank cars caught fire, leveled a town and killed 47 people. The train was stopped and tied down by an engineer from Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Inc. about seven miles from Lac-Mégantic before it rolled downhill into the town, about 150 miles east of Montreal (, July 8).

The Railroad Safety Advisory Committee makes recommendations to the FRA on rail safety issues. "(Today’s) dialogue will serve to build upon the comprehensive regulatory framework we already have in place and allow us to ... eliminate additional risk," FRA administrator Joseph C. Szabo said.

Canada issued an emergency directive July 23 meant to increase rail safety. It requires all rail operators to adequately staff trains and locomotives carrying dangerous materials, ensure the trains are not left unattended on a main track, secure entry to locomotive cabs, secure locomotives’ directional controls and set automatic brakes in full service for trains that are left unattended.

The committee will study appropriate train crew size, requirements for securing trains and operational testing for employees in addition to the proper identification, classification, operational control and handling of hazardous material shipments. Working groups will present specific recommendations to the committee by April 2014.

The FRA also sent a letter July 29 to the American Petroleum Institute, asking that API inform its members that it would study the proper classification of crude oil being shipped by rail, and determine whether safety rules are adequate given the booming oil transportation industry. The letter cited American Association of Railroad (AAR) figures that show crude oil shipment originations soared 443 percent from 2005 to 2012, which makes it the "fastest growing of all hazardous materials shipped by rail."

The AAR said Aug. 2 that member railroads would immediately implement the emergency order.

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