Citing four-fold increases in the amount of crude oil moved by rail in the past decade, the head of the agency said "our safety regulations need to catch up with this new reality."
"While this energy boom is good for business, the people and the environment along rail corridors must be protected from harm," NTSB Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a statement outlining the recommended changes.
The regulations would require rail carriers to plan routes that take shipments of hazardous materials away from populated and environmentally sensitive areas.
They call for audits of rail carriers to ensure they have adequate resources to address "worst case discharges" of hazardous materials and to verify they are properly classifying hazardous materials being transported.
"If unit trains of flammable liquids are going to be part of our nation's energy future, we need to make sure the hazardous materials classification is accurate, the route is well planned, and the tank cars are as robust as possible," Hersman said.
The recommendations were made jointly with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada because rail carriers routinely carry crude oil across the borders of both countries.