October 01, 2014

Senators Warner, Kaine Respond To Proposed Rulemaking On Crude By Rail

WASHINGTON  -  U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine yesterday joined hundreds of stakeholders in responding to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) request for public comment on new rules it has proposed, highlighting areas to further strengthen DOT’s rules in order to ensure the safe transport of crude-by-rail.  On April 30, 2014, a train carrying crude oil derailed in Lynchburg along the James River, resulting in a fire in the downtown area and the release of approximately 20,000 gallons of crude that burned off and leaked into the James. In the wake of April’s derailment, the Senators urged DOT to move forward with the rulemaking process to improve the safety of oil trains and protect Virginians from disastrous accidents.  

In their joint letter in May, the Senators called on DOT to implement advance notification and information sharing procedures between state and local level emergency officials to better prepare local first responders in the event of a hazardous material incident. In addition, Senator Warner brought together more than 80 federal, state and local officials in Richmond to discuss ways to improve the safety of oil trains in June.

The Senators strongly support DOT’s proposed codification of the emergency order that requires trains containing one million gallons or more of crude oil to notify affected states about their travel routes. However, they request DOT extend those notification requirements to trains containing other highly flammable and dangerous substances such as ethanol and chlorine.

The Senators also urged DOT to work with stakeholders to develop a secure online portal to give local first responders and official emergency personnel direct access to real-time data on crude oil shipments. Additionally, in response to DOT’s request for input regarding tank car design and safety standards, the Senators urged that stronger tank car safety standards be put in place and that older tank cars more prone to puncture be retrofitted or phased out of use.

DOT announced its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on July 23, 2014, asking for public comment on its proposal by Sept. 30th.  After reviewing the comments, DOT will move forward with the next step in finalizing the new rules, possibly be the end of the calendar year.   

Text of the letter below:

September 30, 2014


The Honorable Anthony Foxx


U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Ave, SE

Washington, DC 20590

 RE: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for improving the safe transportation of flammable materials, including crude oil, by rail (Docket No. PHMSA-2012-0082 (HM-251))

Dear Secretary Foxx: 

We write to offer comment on several issues we view as important to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on crude oil transportation by rail. In a letter dated May 5, 2014, we urged DOT to move forward with this rulemaking process.  We applaud your leadership in doing so.  There are several areas where we support DOT’s proposals, and other areas where we believe the regulations could be strengthened or additional ideas could be incorporated.  In announcing DOT’s proposal, you had requested comments and input by Sept. 30, 2014.  Please allow this letter to serve as our input. 

As you know, on April 30 of this year, several cars of a CSX train carrying crude oil from the Bakken region derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia. One car ruptured, sparking a fire and discharging some 20,000 gallons of oil into the James River. This incident occurred in a high-traffic downtown commercial and residential area, and we were fortunate that the derailed cars plunged down into the river instead of onto city streets, which could have had dire consequences.  In the aftermath, we heard not just from Lynchburg first responders but also those from other communities – as well as other constituents, experts, and stakeholders – with concerns about the availability of the resources and training necessary to respond to potential future incidents.

With the substantial increase since 2008 of the transportation of crude oil by rail, it is crucial to equip our first responders with both the knowledge of the hazardous materials traveling through their communities and the resources to respond to spills or derailments. In the Lynchburg case, reports indicated that local police knew of crude oil trains only by visually inspecting the placards on the train cars themselves as they moved through the area.  If first responders are to contain a potential incident quickly and safely, advance notification is essential. To that end, we support codification of the emergency order issued in May 2014 requiring trains containing one million gallons or more of crude oil to notify state emergency response units (SERCs) about their travel routes.  We would also ask that DOT consider expanding the notification order to include shipments of other Class 3 flammable liquids.  In addition to crude oil, many other dangerous substances such as ethanol and chlorine travel through our communities.  Our local first responders have a right to be notified of those shipments as well. 

Second, we urge that DOT take the lead in working with stakeholders to develop a secure online portal to give first responders access to real-time data on crude oil shipments through their areas of jurisdiction.  This technology currently exists and is being employed on a limited basis, but we believe it could be expanded in a way that would work for both local first responders and industry participants.  Such a system would allow first responders to view appropriate information when they need it, rather than having to rely on others to share the information with them, which could result in time delays and being provided either too little or too much data.

Third, we believe that tank car safety standards should be strengthened.  There has been a great deal of focus on the weaknesses of the DOT-111 model tank car, which has been involved in several high-profile accidents in recent years.  Yet in the Lynchburg incident, the tank car that ruptured was a newer CPC-1232 model, not the older DOT-111.  This suggests to us that standards for new tank cars should go beyond the current 2011 industry standard of using 7/16-inch steel. Thermal jackets, top fittings and bottom outlet protection should also be considered.

In addition, these railcars often cross our northern border. Given that Canada is phasing out or retrofitting DOT-111 railcars by 2017, DOT should work to establish an appropriate phase-out/retrofit period that aligns with Canada’s timetable so that older tank cars are not simply continuing to be used in the United States once the phase-out in Canada is complete.

Finally, we believe that a collaborative process involving input from all stakeholders can most effectively address these issues. We encourage open communication among the agency, rail operators, and independent technical experts to ensure that decisions are made with the most complete information.  We will also work in Congress to secure support for hazardous materials emergency preparedness grants and public safety training to ensure that first responders have access to the equipment, information, and expertise they need.

We are grateful for your work on this issue and look forward to your continued support of policies to provide for the safe transport of crude oil on our nation’s rail network.  Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Mark R. Warner                                                                                               

United States Senator                 


Tim Kaine                           

United States Senator  

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