U.S., Canada Announce New Safety Standards For Oil Trains Safety advocates say the regulations — which require a sturdier tank car design and a new brake system, among other changes — don't do enough to protect people who live near railways from derailments.
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U.S., Canada Announce New Safety Standards For Oil Trains

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U.S., Canada Announce New Safety Standards For Oil Trains

U.S., Canada Announce New Safety Standards For Oil Trains

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The U.S. and Canada are opposing tougher safety standards on trains hauling crude oil. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Canada's Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced today that shippers must use stronger tank cars to haul oil across North America. The regulations also mandate the use of a controversial braking system on trains carrying crude, as NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The new rules for tank cars were a longtime in the making. Safety advocates have been calling for sturdier tank cars for decades. And those calls have increased in the 22 months since a runaway oil train exploded in downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. There have been several other fiery derailments of oil trains, too. Though none were deadly, the sharp increase in the amount of oil that is being hauled by trains is a big concern.

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ANTHONY FOXX: Since 2008, we've seen a staggering, staggering 4,000-percent increase in the transport of crude by rail.

SCHAPER: Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says 99.9 percent of those oil shipments reach their destination safely.

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FOXX: The accidents involving crude and ethanol that have occurred, though, have shown us that 99.9 percent isn't enough. We have to strive for perfection.

SCHAPER: So the two governments are now requiring new tank cars be built with thicker steel shells, protective shields, thermal lining and stronger valves to help prevent the cars from rupturing when they derail. Older tank cars will have to be retrofitted within a couple of years or pulled off the tracks. Oil trains will have to travel at slower speeds, and they'll need to be equipped with an advanced electronic braking system.

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LISA RAITT: I know that the safety measures that we have outlined today will not be easy and, quite frankly, they will not be cheap.

SCHAPER: Canada Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt.

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RAITT: We can never undo the damage that took place in Lac-Megantic or in any other railway accident, but we can and we must learn from those events and improve our system.

SCHAPER: But already the oil producers and the railroads are balking at some of the regulations. Edward Hamberger is president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads. He accuses regulators of imposing the advanced braking system based on what he says is a flawed study.

EDWARD HAMBERGER: How does that stack up against the president's call for good, common-sense regulations when you're basing a regulation on a study that the author himself says should be taken with a grain of salt?

SCHAPER: Some question whether manufacturers can build enough new railcars and retrofit the older ones fast enough to meet the government's deadlines. And Tom Friedman of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturer says the new regulations do little to prevent derailments.

DAVID FRIEDMAN: These tank cars don't breach unless they've gone off the tracks. So our message continues to be that we've got to keep the cars on the tracks.

SCHAPER: More than 40 oil trains roll through the city of Aurora, Ill., each week. Mayor Tom Weisner says the new rules are full of holes that do little to protect those who live near the rails.

TOM WEISNER: I don't think our federal regulators did the job that they needed to do here. I think they wimped out, as it were.

SCHAPER: The new regulations on trains transporting oil and other flammable liquids will go into effect October 1. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The audio version of this story incorrectly refers to the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers' David Friedman as Tom Friedman.]

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