WASHINGTON — In an unprecedented move, regulators in both the U.S. and Canada are calling for tougher rules for trains carrying crude oil through the two countries.
The recommendations, released Thursday, were prompted by a July crash of a train carrying crude oil in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Forty-seven people were killed in the small community not far from the Maine border when an unmanned train owned by Maine Montreal and Atlantic Railway crashed. The train was carrying crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada are calling for three major changes. In the U.S., the rule changes would need to be adopted by the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The first would require railroads hauling hazardous materials to avoid populated and other sensitive areas.
The second calls for an audit program to ensure rail carriers that carry petroleum products have adequate response capabilities to address worst-case discharges of the entire quantity of product carried on a train.
The third recommendation is to audit shippers and rail carriers to ensure they are properly classifying hazardous materials in transportation and that they have adequate safety and security plans in place.
“The large-scale shipment of crude oil by rail simply didn’t exist 10 years ago, and our safety regulations need to catch up with this new reality,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “While this energy boom is good for business, the people and the environment along rail corridors must be protected from harm.”
Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, who had called for stronger safety standards after the Lac Megantic crash, welcomed the recommendations, but called for swift action to implement them.
“We are glad the NTSB is making these recommendations, but so far they are just that — recommendations. The next step is to put some teeth in them and that is going to require the Obama administration or Congress to act and turn the recommendations into new rules,” Michaud and Pingree said in a press release.
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King were also supportive of the recommendations.