Spurred by a boom in oil-carrying trains and several recent tragic accidents, the Obama administration proposed stricter rules Wednesday for rail cars that transport flammable fuels, including ethanol.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced speed limits for trains carrying these fuels, tougher braking requirements, mandatory testing of oil and other volatile liquids and new design standards for tanks cars. He called for the phaseout, in two years, of older tank cars - some built in the 1960s - unless retrofitted to comply with the new standards.

We need a new world order for transporting fuel by rail, Foxx told reporters at a morning a press conference, noting a record amount of oil is being moved by rail. Compared to other crudes, he said oil produced in the Bakken shale formation of North Dakota and Montana is on the high end of volatility. Also, an accompanying DOT report said Bakken crude shipments travel, on average, more than 1,000 miles to coastal refineries.

As U.S. oil production soars, especially in regions like the Bakken that lack sufficient pipeline capacity, shipments of oil by rail has skyrocketed and several derailments have raised safety concerns. In May, an oil-carrying freight train derailed in Lynchburg, Va., spilling 30,000 gallons of oil into the James River. Last year in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, an oil train exploded and killed 47 people.

Members of Congress, including Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., have held hearings and urged DOT to issue tougher rules, citing the surge in rail traffic. The number of Class 1 oil-carrying cars jumped from 9,500 in 2008 to 407,761 in 2013 and totaled 110,164 in the first quarter this year, according to the Association of American Railroads, an industry group.

The rail industry has been expecting the DOT rules, which have been in the works for months, and have warned that slower speed limits could hamper business. Environmental groups have urged the agency to do more to enhance safety.

The DOT is requesting public comment on speed restrictions that include a 40-mph maximum in all areas as well as such a limit only in high-threat urban areas or in places with at least 100,000 residents. The agency said it's also looking at a 50-mph limit for tank cars that meet the new standards and a 30-mph restriction for those that do no comply with the stricter braking requirements.

The department's proposal, which will take months to finalize following a public-comment period, applies to shipments with at least 20 rail cars carrying flammable fuels.

In May, the DOT said railroads with trains carrying more than 1 million gallons of oil would be required to notify local emergency responders when those shipments travel through their states.

Read or Share this story: