New Rules Proposed For Oil-Carrying Trains In Wake Of Fiery Crashes

The Obama administration is proposing new safety rules for railroad oil tank cars, after a series of fiery derailments. The rules would phase out thousands of older cars in two years.

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The Obama administration is proposing new rules for cargo trains that haul oil around the country. That comes after disastrous crashes involving those trains. The change means thousands of older, tanker cars would have to be replaced or retrofitted over the next two years. NPR's Brian Naylor has more.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The Transportation Department says some 415,000 rail cars carrying crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota moved throughout the US last year. That's an exponential increase in fewer than 10 years. But with the increase in rail traffic have come some highly publicized accidents - the worst in Quebec last year when a train carrying Bakken crude exploded in a small town, killing 47 people. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says it's time for some changes.

ANTHONY FOXX: The bottom line is that we're going to be very clear that we need a new world order on how this stuff moves.

NAYLOR: That new world order includes making oil shippers either retrofit an older model of rail car or stop using them in two years. The department is proposing that new cars have thicker walls and better breaks. It's also proposing a 40 mph speed limit for trains using the older cars in certain areas and for shippers to notify state officials along the proposed route. Foxx says safety is the main priority.

FOXX: Out of all of the options our rule presents, it is mine and our department's preference to go with the one that's safest for communities along these routes and for the men and women operating these trains.

NAYLOR: Foxx said department tests have shown the Bakken crude more volatile and flammable than other crude oils. The American Petroleum Institute disagrees, issuing a statement calling that speculation. Industry groups and others have 60 days to comment on the proposals. And environmental group ForestEthics says the department has underestimated the threat that trains pose - calling the worst ones unsafe at any speed, saying they should be banned immediately. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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