Durbin Calls for Additional Safety Measures to Strengthen Tank Cars and Prevent Derailment

COLLINSVILLE – In response to safety concerns raised by the rapid increase of trains carrying volatile crude oil and ethanol across the country, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today stood with local mayors and first responders to call for stronger safety measures to strengthen tank cars and prevent derailment. He discussed two bills he’s cosponsoring in the Senate that impose safety measures that expand on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)’s final tank car rules released earlier this month.

“Recent derailments have made it clear that at a very basic level we need to better secure flammable substances travelling in unsafe tank cars,” Durbin said. “The new regulations issued by DOT earlier this month were a long-awaited  step in the right direction, but more needs to be done. We need to set an ambitious, yet realistic timeline for the upgrades that will deliver a safer generation of tank cars.  We also need to look closely at the volatility of the contents of these tank cars, giving us the opportunity to put the most volatile, dangerous cargo in the safest cars. This is a critical component missing from DOT regulations.  We also need to take into account the safety concerns of the communities along these train routes, ensuring that first responders have the necessary resources and training to contain accidents when they happen.”

DOT’s final rules set a timeline for retrofitting and phasing out old tank cars carrying high-hazard flammables.  The weakest cars are scheduled to be replaced within three years, followed by the retrofit or replacement of the newer, more robust tank cars. Tank cars constructed after October 1, 2015 are required to meet the strongest standard.

Durbin is cosponsoring two bills in the Senate that would expedite and strengthen DOT’s rules. The first bill, introduced by U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), sets an expedited phase-out for cars carrying crude oil. It requires the old, weak DOT-111 tank cars to be replaced in two years, instead of three years as required in the DOT regulation. The newer, more robust tank cars involved in the Galena accident will need to be phased-out in three years instead of five years. The bill also expands the scope of the 40 mph speed restrictions to include more areas.  Just as importantly, it requires DOT to establish a national maximum volatililty standard within one year to help determine whether standards should be set for the volatility of tank car contents to reduce flammability risk.

The second bill, introduced by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), offers monetary incentives for the railroads to replace old fleets. It establishes a $175 per-car fee on crude and ethanol shipped in DOT-111s that would be used to provide training for first responders, cleanup in the event there is an accident, hiring additional inspectors that are desperately needed, and rail line relocation to move tracks to safer routes..  The fee will double each year to incentivize a quicker phase-out of the oldest tank cars.  The bill also provides a 15 percent tax credit for 3 years to companies that update their CPC-1232 cars to the higher standards set in the DOT rule and requires more information about derailments to be disclosed to the FRA and first responders.

Earlier this month Durbin joined seven Senators to send a letter to Secretary Foxx calling for continuation of an Emergency Order to improve the process of providing detailed information on crude rail transports to first responders.  The letter requests State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) have continued access to timely crude-by-rail movements and also requests railroads to proactively share crude transport information with state and local leaders. 

Yesterday, Secretary Foxx responded to the letter announcing DOT will take action to continue to provide SERCs and other state, local, and tribal officials with critical information to help first responders on a permanent basis.  This step will help ensure that first responders have ongoing access to the information needed to sufficiently prepare for and respond to an incident.

Five years ago, very little crude oil was hauled by the nation’s railroads. Today, more than 1.1 million barrels per day – with more expected – move by rail, largely originating in the Midwest. There have been four fiery derailments involving oil trains in North America since the start of February.

In Illinois, tank car weakness was exposed in two high profile derailments in Illinois when DOT-111s exploded after derailing.  In 2009, one person was killed when a Canadian National (CN) train carrying ethanol derailed in Cherry Valley, Illinois.  In 2011, 800 residents of Tiskilwa were evacuated from their homes after an ethanol train derailed and caused a massive explosion. The NTSB found the weakness of these cars added to the severity of both explosions.