Oil By Rail Faces Tough New Regulations, Eventually

U.S. and Canadian regulators unveiled tough new regulations on Friday that will require railways to transition to tougher tank cars and use new braking systems for trains carrying flammable liquids. The long-awaited steps are aimed at reducing the frequency of fiery crude oil train derailments in North America.

The regulations announced on Friday, while tough, will only be phased in over a 10-year schedule. The railway industry has opposed all of the new regulations, despite numerous incidents that have harmed both the environment and human life.

During a press conference on Friday, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx tied the new rules to the “staggering” growth in the amount of crude oil that is being shipped via rail throughout North America.

The stunning growth can largely be attributed to increased production from shale deposits in Texas and North Dakota.

Crude oil produced from North American shale deposits is more flammable than traditional oil and has been involved in numerous explosive derailments in the U.S. and Canada, including a devastating accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, nearly two years ago. The July 2013 incident occurred when a crude oil train came loose from its brakes and slammed into the center of the small Quebec town. The incident killed 47 people.

“We can never undo the damage that took place in Lac-Mégantic or in any other railway accident,” Ms. Raitt said. “But we can and we must learn from those events and improve our system.”

Ottawa and Washington have issued a patchwork of new regulations since the disaster, covering speed limits, emergency planning and other issues. However, safety experts have long called for a more co-ordinated approach.

Predictably The Association of American Railroads, who represents large railways and related suppliers, called the new U.S. braking rule “misguided” and said it would threaten rail capacity and service. “This is an imprudent decision made without supporting data or analysis,” AAR president Edward Hamberger said in a statement. “I have a hard time believing the determination to impose ECP brakes is anything but a rash rush to judgment.”

That position is at odds with the 47 families who lost loved ones in Lac-Mégantic and who would consider the tragedy the ultimate data point that should govern rules. The fact U.S. and Canadian regulators agreed on the issue underscores just how serious the danger really is.

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