Durbin, Foster Meet with Aurora Leaders to Discuss Rail Tank Car Safety

AURORA – 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) and U.S. Congressman Bill Foster (D-IL-11) today met with Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner and local stakeholders to discuss actions to strengthen tank cars and prevent derailments. Durbin and Foster highlighted recently-enacted legislation that includes several improvements to rail safety.

“Just 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,” Durbin said. “With more communities involved, we need to make sure these materials are transported in the safest possible way. That’s why I cosponsored two bills in the Senate that would help us move faster to a safer generation of tank cars and helped lead efforts to finally pass a bipartisan long-term transportation bill that was signed into law in December.”

“It is critical that we ensure the safety of families in the cities of Illinois that were built around railway hubs, and I commend Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner for his long standing dedication to railway safety. The long-term transportation bill we passed last year is an example of Congress finally acting as it should. Not only will it allow our local governments the certainty to make much needed investments in infrastructure, but it is also taking important steps to improve rail safety,” said Foster.  “However, these steps are just the beginning. With America’s production of energy and chemicals, we must continue to be vigilant and ensure that we are doing everything we can to transport these items safely. I will continue to be a voice in Washington advocating for fact-based solutions that keep our communities safe and our economy running.”


Durbin requested increased focus on tank car safety in the recently enacted long term transportation bill and 2016 Omnibus spending bill.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act takes the following actions to improve tank car safety:

  • Requires a study on crude oil volatility to be performed jointly by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Energy (DOE). 
  • Requires new and retrofitted tank cars be equipped with a thermal blanket aiding in a longer burn time, and sets standards for top fittings. 
  • Requires DOT to issue regulations regarding a comprehensive oil spill response plan which requires railroads to disclose information on their oil train shipments to state emergency response commissions, law enforcement, and first responders. The regulations will also determine confidentiality measures on the security-sensitive information.
  • Closes loophole in DOT’s regulations that would allow shippers to continue using older model tank cars that have been deemed unsafe as long as there were fewer than 35 such cars on a train, or 20 cars in a row. 

The 2016 Omnibus spending bill takes the following actions:

  • Provides funding for safety and operations at FRA for continued emergency preparedness grants for local communities; funds for the safe transport of energy, track inspectors, and web-based training for first responders.
  • Requires DOT to finalize a rule on comprehensive oil spill response plans within a year.
  • Provides $50 million for rail safety grants, including $25 million for Railroad Safety Infrastructure Improvement Grants; and $25 million for Positive Train Control (PTC).
  • Increases funding for highway-railroad grade crossings to $350 million.

Last year, DOT issued regulations putting safety standards in place for tank cars carrying hazardous materials including crude oil. The rule set a new, tougher standard for tank cars, and set the timeline by which cars currently in use must be retrofitted to meet a high standard. New cars built after October 1, 2015 are required to meet the strongest safety standards available, including a thicker shell, thermal protection and other measures. The weakest cars (DOT-111) are scheduled to be replaced within three years, followed by the retrofit or replacement of the newer, more robust tank cars.


Durbin is the cosponsor of two bills that expedite the transition to stronger tank cars, and provides funding for additional inspectors to help address the shortage. 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 volatility 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.


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 National Transportation Safety Board found the weakness of these cars added to the severity of both explosions.