States to get more information about oil train traffic

By Bill Holloway

USDOT recently issued an emergency order requiring that railroads moving large amounts of crude oil from the Bakken formation notify the states through which their trains travel.

Railroads must notify each state’s emergency response commission of the route the trains will travel, estimated volumes of oil the trains will transport, and their frequencies. In addition, railroads must provide to each state the contact information for at least one responsible party at the railroad and must assist states in sharing information with emergency responders in affected communities.

The emergency order only affects railroads operating trains carrying at least one million gallons (about 35 tank cars) of oil sourced from the Bakken shale formation in the Williston Basin. The order comes in the wake of a series of explosions involving tank cars carrying crude oil from the Bakken formation. USDOT has also issued a safety advisory directing rail carriers to avoid using older DOT-111 tank cars to carry Bakken crude because they lack the structural integrity and safety features of newer models. For more on the unique safety issues associated with transporting Bakken crude by rail, see SSTI’s March article on the topic.

Faced with the threat of potentially devastating oil tank car explosions, states are wading into the rail safety conversation as well. Following a derailment in Lynchburg that sent three oil tank cars into the James River, sparking a fire and releasing up to 25,000 gallons of oil, Virginia has formed a new Railroad Safety and Security Taskforce. The Taskforce will make safety recommendations to the federal government and advise the state on improving preparation and response efforts. Governor McAuliffe has also spoken to federal officials about rerouting trains carrying Bakken oil around population centers. Because railroads are regulated at the federal level, states are unable to make such changes on their own.

Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.