California Attorney General pushes back on regulation of trains carrying flammable oil being retained at the federal level

Written by David C. Lester, Managing Editor
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David C. Lester

Several states are pushing back on the notion that regulation of crude oil trains in the United States belongs in the hands of the federal government, as opposed to being regulated by the states.  The Sierra Times reports that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has contacted the U.S. Department of Transportation, and expressed support of the State of Washington efforts to retain state control with laws that limit the vapor pressure level in cars that are carrying very flammable crude oil by rail.

Interestingly, North Dakota and Montana are opposed to these Washington state laws, and the Attorney General’s letter expressed opposition to the position of these two states.  The transportation of crude oil by rail is relatively safe, but an accident can have disastrous consequences. The railroads have made efforts to minimize the impact of oil train derailments by building stronger tank cars that are better equipped to retain leaks and prevent fires.

However, if things go wrong, as they have in past years before stronger tank cars were in place, all bets are off as to the level of havoc that can be wrought by derailments.  In fact, many refer to these trains as “bomb trains,” as violent explosions and intense heat can result from derailments. Trains moving in California often pass areas that are among California’s very sensitive ecological areas, as well as highly populated communities.  Several states have noted that the Environmental Protection Agency has not been active in keeping communities safe, and have failed to enact more robust standards, putting areas through which the trains pass at risk.

Attorney Geneal Becerra said “States play an important role in protecting the health and safety of their citizens.  Millions of Californians live, work, and attend school within the vicinity of railroad tracks. We can’t afford to wait for the next disaster before taking action on the transport of dangerous and flammable oil moving through our communities. A derailment or explosion in California could put countless lives at risk and cause major damage to our land and waterways. This risk is simply unacceptable.”

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Categories: Class 1, Freight, News, Railroad News, Safety/Training
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