Need for Federal Action Mounts after Latest Railroad Tank Explosion

January 6, 2014

Leslie Wollack

In response to a series of recent accidents involving the explosion of railroad tank cars carrying crude oil in North Dakota, Illinois and Canada, lawmakers in Washington, DC are joining local leaders across the country in urging quick federal action.  

Last summer, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) called for public comment on an earlier recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board for more resilient tank cars. PHMSA began looking into the issue after a train carrying 72 tank cars of crude oil exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, resulting in 47 deaths.

Following the latest derailment and crash, which forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 residents from the town of Casselton, N.D., the National Transportation Safety Board has launched the nation's first broad examination of the safety of moving petroleum by rail.

In addition, Oregon Rep. Pete DeFazio and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin are adding their voices to the push for federal action. Rep. DeFazio, a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, issued a statement indicating his interest in legislation. 

“Thankfully, it appears no lives were lost in today’s derailment, but this should serve as a strong reminder that it’s time to take rail car safety more seriously,” said DeFazio. “The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to improve the safety of railroad tank car transportation in September.  But, a rulemaking process will take months, if not years, and I don’t think Congress can wait.”

DeFazio went on to say that while there are upgrades that can be made to existing rail cars in the short term as the industry works to replace existing cars with new cars that meet stronger standards, the federal government can and should be doing more to ensure that trains are not going to cause loss of life and property.

NLC policy committees will be looking into the public safety implications for local governments on the issue when they meet in Washington, DC in March for the Congressional City Conference.