FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 26, 2014
SCHUMER: JUST-ANNOUNCED RAIL SAFETY DEAL DOES NOT GO FAR ENOUGH IN PROTECTING UPSTATE NY – AGREEMENT MUST BE AMENDED SO THAT CRUDE OIL COMPANIES PHASE OUT DOT-111 CARS & CONSIDER REDUCED SPEEDS IN HIGHLY POPULATED AREAS
Irving Oil and Tesoro Have Stepped Up & Agreed to Phase Out Dangerous DOT-111 Cars in Coming Months; Schumer Urges That Private Oil & Car Leasing Companies - As Users of Rail Lines In Safety Initiative - Phase Out Cars As Interim Measure While Federal Rules Are Completed
Schumer Also Says That Rail Safety Initiative Arbitrarily Reduces Speeds of DOT-111s In Only Buffalo & NYC, Ignoring the Vast Majority of NY Rail Network – DOT & Rail Companies Should Base Speed Requirements on Population & Rail Activity
With Crude Oil Derailments Occurring Frequently, Voluntary Deal Must Be Brought Up To Snuff While Fed Rules to Retrofit DOT-111 Rail Cars & Determine Safer Replacement Cars Are Enacted
Today on a press conference call, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer said that just-announced rail safety initiative, agreed to by the Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Association of American Railroads on February 20th, does not go far enough in protecting New York communities along crude oil lines and outlined a proposal for two major amendments to the agreement. Schumer also said that, while these voluntary standards between the feds and rail companies are a good first step, the agreement must be strengthened and can only serve as an interim measure while the DOT finalizes rules for the permanent phase-out and replacement of the dangerous DOT-111 cars carrying crude oil through New York each day.
First, Schumer argued that private oil and car leasing companies, which use the rail lines that are part of the safety initiative, should phase out DOT-111 cars on New York tracks and provide a specific plan to do so no later than July 1, 2014. Many of the commitments made in the original voluntary deal are due or take effect on July 1, 2014. Irving Oil, a Canadian company and Tesoro, a Texas-based company, have already voluntarily proposed a phase-out plan for 2014. Second, Schumer explained that the rail safety deal also falls short in protecting Upstate New York by arbitrarily setting reduced speed limits for DOT-111s only in Buffalo and NYC, which ignores other highly populated areas and asked for an additional review of these areas. With crude oil train derailments occurring far too often, the DOT and rail industry’s voluntary safety standards must be strengthened as we await legal federal requirements.
“Each week seems to come with another freight train derailment, and it is imperative we undertake every measure necessary to ensure the safety of the New York communities through which these crude oil tank cars pass,” said Senator Schumer. “The voluntary standards agreed to by the DOT and the freight rail industry are a good interim measure while we await federal rulemaking, but they are incomplete without focus on phasing-out or retrofitting outdated and deficient DOT-111 tank cars. Therefore, I want the agreement amended so that oil companies and operators of these outdated tank cars develop a formal plan and present it to the DOT, AAR, and the public no later than July 1st this year. It’s also critical that the stakeholders go back to the drawing board and review the list of locations for lower speed limits, which is far too exclusive as it stands.”
Schumer continued, “Transporting crude oil by rail in outdated tank cars – which have been proven to fail frequently upon derailment – is a ticking time bomb. And we are transporting more of this crude oil by rail each day, not less. While we are thankful for the economic benefit that comes from increased commerce, the damage wrought by a just a single accident in a populated area could undo that benefit a thousand fold or more.”
Schumer, who has long been a proponent of stricter safety standards for crude oil transported by rail, is now pushing for a two-pronged plan to make crude oil transport safer as the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) finalize a rule on the phase-out and retrofitting of outdated DOT-111 tank cars. Schumer explained that phasing-out or retrofitting these outdated cars is his number one action item to make crude oil transport safer, citing an NTSB report that documents the serious structural deficiencies of the DOT-111 car. DOT-111 cars are not pressurized, unlike pressurized DOT-105 or DOT-112 which have thicker shells and heads and are much less prone to breaching during a derailment. The NTSB found that the heads and shells of older DOT-111 cars can almost always be expected to breach in derailments that involve pile-ups or multiple car-to-cart accidents. These cars, prone to failure in the event of a derailment, were involved in several high-profile spills, including the tragic explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec last year. Recently, derailments of crude oil tank cars near Cheektowaga and in Ulster County – which luckily did not result in spills or explosions – have highlighted the danger posed in New York.
But, as the FRA and PHSMA have yet to finalize these rules, Schumer is pressing for a more robust interim safety plan. Just last week, on February 20th, the federal DOT and AAR agreed on new voluntary safety standards. Schumer praised the standards, which include eight commitments from the freight rail industry to improve rail safety, but said they do not go far enough to protect Upstate New York communities that have seen an explosion in the amount of crude oil transported through their neighborhoods. Nationwide, shipping crude oil by rail has jumped six-fold since 2011, according to American Association of Railroads data. Schumer is asking that the voluntary safety standards agreed to by the DOT and AAR be amended in two particular ways.
First, Schumer is pressing the DOT and AAR to formally amend the agreement to include a ninth commitment: that users (either leasing or oil companies) develop a concrete plan to phase out the older DOT-111 cars transporting crude oil by July 1st, 2014. Rules are in the works to require oil companies to eliminate these cars and Schumer is urging the industry to voluntarily begin the process right away. Schumer said this ninth commitment will help the industry transition quicker to compliance with the expected DOT requirement, all while improving safety. Irving Oil, a large Canadian oil company, and Tesoro Oil have already voluntarily agreed to phase out DOT-111s and AAR has expressed support for this course of actions. Schumer is urging others companies that own or lease the tank cars will follow suit.
Second, Schumer argued that the speed limit change (from 50 mph to 40 mph) in the agreement was far too exclusive in terms of the area it applies to—currently it only applies to Buffalo and New York City. The freight rail lines that transport crude oil, via CSX and CP trains, run through every major urban center in Upstate New York, including: Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Albany, and many communities in the North Country and Hudson Valley. Schumer contended that if these speed limits were intended to mitigate risk in densely populated areas with a high volume of traffic, then these other Upstate cities and locations throughout New York should be reviewed and considered for inclusion, based on population and volume of crude oil traffic. The agreement between the federal DOT and AAR cited New York City and Buffalo because they were listed on the high-threat urban areas (HTUA) list, which is not representative of the complex freight rail network in New York State. In fact, of those two, only Buffalo experiences a high volume of crude oil traffic, which leaves much of the rest of the State out.
Crude oil transport via freight rail has surged over the past few years. Last year, there were more trains carrying crude across North America than ever before: nearly 1,400 carloads a day. In 2009, there were just 31 carloads a day. New York in particular, has experienced this spike, as crude from the Bakken oil deposit in North Dakota is transported to east coast refineries. It is transported on rail lines coming from the West and North towards Albany, where it is either loaded onto barges or tankers to carry it down the Hudson, or continues down along the CSX line through the Hudson Valley towards New Jersey. Schumer’s office released a map of the CP and CSX freight rail lines, which crisscross New York and pass-through nearly every major urban area. The CSX line carries crude from Buffalo through Rochester, Syracuse and Utica to Albany, where it then heads south on rail lines along the Hudson River before skirting New York City on its way to New Jersey. The Canadian Pacific (CP) freight rail line brings crude down from Rouses Point through Plattsburgh, along Lake Champlain and Whitehall, Saratoga, Cohoes, and Watervliet to Albany. Some crude from the CP line merges with Pam Am Railroad at Mechanicville and heads east to Massachusetts. Most, however, continues to the Port of Albany where it is loaded onto barges or oil tankers to travel down the Hudson en route to refineries in Canada and the east coast.
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letters to the DOT, AAR and the oil industry trade associations are available upon request.