Durbin Statement on New Rules to Strengthen Railroad Tank Cars

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) released the following statement today after the Department of Transportation announced new rules to strengthen requirements for railroad tank cars. The new rules are intended to help prevent and mitigate the effects of catastrophic spills of the hazardous materials – including ethanol and crude oil – these cars transport through densely populated Illinois cities and towns. Durbin received an update regarding the new regulations during a phone call with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx this morning.


“I am glad to see the Administration take action to finalize their rule to strengthen tank car standards. Improving tank car safety is a key area where we can make significant progress to help prevent and mitigate the potentially catastrophic effects of a train derailment. Although I am disappointed to see such a lengthy timeline for phasing out older tank cars, the strong standards announced today for new tank cars will help us meet our goal of ensuring that every car on the rails meets strict safety requirements,” Durbin said.


“Strengthening tank cars alone will not solve all of our rail safety issues. We need to address rail safety comprehensively, including focusing on rail infrastructure, equipment, maintenance and human factors. And we need to look at not just the safety of the rail cars, but the safety of what is being put into those cars.”


The rule released today will require new tank cars constructed after October 1, 2015 to meet strict safety standards, including thicker shells, jackets, thermal protection, improved pressure relief valves, and bottom outlet valves. The rule also requires that existing tank cars be replaced with new cars or retrofitted with these safety features. The DOT-111 tank cars – the cars involved in the derailments in Cherry Valley and Tiskilwa, Illinois – must be replaced or retrofitted within 3 years. The non-jacketed CPC-1232 tank cars – the cars involved in the derailment in Galena, Illinois last month – must be replaced or retrofitted within 5 years. More information about the rule is available here.

In December 2013 – after meeting with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Deborah Hersman and the Transportation Secretary Foxx to discuss ways to increase safety on both passenger and freight rail – Durbin wrote the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to urge the agency to take swift action to strengthen railroad tank car requirements.

In August 2014, after pressure from Durbin and area mayors, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) took its most significant action to date by releasing a draft rule to handle the issue of tank car safety comprehensively. Shortly afterward, Durbin convened a meeting with mayors from the Chicago metropolitan area, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator and the Surface Transportation Board (STB) Chairman to hear their concerns about rail safety and an increase in rail delays.


Earlier this month, Durbin spoke again with Foxx to discuss growing concerns regarding an exponential increase in shipments of crude oil. Following a BNSF train derailment south of Galena last month, Durbin and U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos (D-IL) wrote Foxx to call for renewed efforts to create the strongest possible safety standards for the transportation of flammable materials such as crude oil-by-rail. Durbin also wrote the Senate Appropriations Committee to share support for robust investment for a Safe Transportation of Energy Products program to address increasing safety concerns related to the transportation of Bakken crude and other energy products.


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, including the one near Galena, Illinois.


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.


Recent derailments have caused similar explosive fires, including last month in West Virginia. The most severe occurred in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in July 2013 when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded, wiping out dozens of buildings and killing 47 people. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada released a report on the incident a year later, citing inadequate government oversight as one of the causing factors.


Durbin helped secure several funding lines and policy changes in the fiscal year 2015 Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill that will help address oil train safety. The bill includes funding for an increase of track inspections, more training for first responders, and calls on DOT to finalize their proposed rules quickly.


Durbin has also worked closely with area mayors on the issue of freight rail traffic and blocked rail crossings.  He called for increased mitigation as part of CN’s controversial purchase of the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway (EJ&E). The deal was finalized in late 2008 and was placed under special STB oversight that expires early next year. In response to complaints from the communities along the EJ&E, Durbin has pushed the STB to ensure greater safety along the line.  This push resulted in the STB’s first ever fine against CN for under-reporting the number and duration of blocked rail-highway crossings.  Several suburban communities in Illinois have contacted the STB with their concerns about increased rail traffic along the EJ&E. The Village of Barrington and City of Aurora in particular have been vigilant in promoting increased rail safety, especially for trains carrying crude oil and ethanol.