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Obama administration issues new oil train safety rules

The new rules have been in the pipeline for years and come at a time when the transport of oil by rail has increased sharply.

By Ananth Baliga
The U.S. DOT-111 tank car, also known as the CTC-111A in Canada, is one of the most frequently used cars used on oil trains. (CC:Harvey Henkelmann)
The U.S. DOT-111 tank car, also known as the CTC-111A in Canada, is one of the most frequently used cars used on oil trains. (CC:Harvey Henkelmann)

WASHINGTON, July 23 (UPI) -- The Obama administration released rules Wednesday that will require the use of stronger rail cars to transport flammable fuels, given the recent spate of derailments and spills.

Federal regulators have offered a faster than expected timetable to overhaul rail transport of oil and corn-based ethanol. The new rules would impose speed limits for these trains, testing of oil and flammable liquids and new design standards for rail cars.

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"Today's proposal represents our most significant progress yet in developing and enforcing new rules to ensure that all flammable liquids, including Bakken crude and ethanol, are transported safely," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

The new standards are to account for the increase in the use of trains to carry flammable liquids. Production of crude from places like North Dakota's Bakken field is exceeding pipeline capacity, which is leading to an increase in rail transport.

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After a series of derailments, including the deadly Lac-Mégantic derailment last year, local and state officials including North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple have called for renewed rail safety measures that account for the transport of crude.

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In May, the DoT issued emergency orders that rail companies in the U.S. should avoid using older DOT-111 or CTC-111 rail cars to carry Bakken crude, which is more prone to catching fire than other forms.

Under the new Department of Transportation rules, tanks will have steel shielding, crash-resistant valves and better thermal protection. Older cars will be replaced in the next two years.

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The proposals will be open to public comment for the next 60 days. The DoT is seeking public opinion on whether these trains should have cars fitted with electronically controlled brakes and rollover protection. After getting public opinion, new rules are expected to be issued by early next year.

The department has been working on new rules for years but a recent spate of accidents has accelerated this process. The department expects 15 derailments in 2015 and five annually after that, if the current changes aren't implemented.

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