Top Officials Call for Action on Oil-Train Safety Issues

WASHINGTON — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged the White House Wednesday to give "immediate attention'' to safety issues involving the increased use of freight trains to transport crude oil.

He made his comments just hours before the latest derailment in Lynchburg, Va.

Cuomo later said the accident and other recent derailments are "a startling pattern that underscores the need for action."

"In addition to steps that states like New York are taking, the federal government must overhaul the safety regulations, starting with taking DOT-111 trains off the rails now," he said in a statement. "These trains travel through populated communities in upstate New York and we cannot wait for a tragic disaster in our state to act."

The city of Lynchburg in south-central Virginia said on its web site that 12 to 14 CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed in the downtown area along the James River, "causing extensive flames and dense smoke.''

Firefighters on the scene decided to let the fire, caused by three or four ruptured tank cars, burn out. The nearby area was evacuated for several hours. By early evening, the city was allowing motorists to retrieve vehicles left downtown.

No injuries were reported and the cause of the derailment was under investigation, the city said. The National Transportation Safety Board, which last week urged quick federal action to improve the safety of rail tank cars, dispatched investigators to the scene.

On Wednesday, the federal Transportation Department sent the White House a proposed rule for dealing with safety issues arising from recent deadly accidents involving "unit" trains carrying up to 100 tank cars of crude oil or ethanol.

The proposal will be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget. Transportation Department spokesman Kevin Thompson said it will become public after the department issues it as a "notice of proposed rulemaking."

Last week, the Canadian government announced it was immediately phasing out 5,000 of the least crash-resistant DOT-111 tank cars not equipped with continuous bottom reinforcement because they have a higher risk of failure in a derailment.

Transport Canada also said it will require all other DOT-111 railroad tank cars to be retrofitted or phased out in three years.

Cuomo's letter said a new report by New York state agencies recommends faster action to strengthen federal rules for retrofitting or replacing DOT-111 tank cars. Those tankers handle nearly 82 percent of the crude oil traveling by rail from the Bakken Formation oil field in North Dakota and Montana, the report said.

The governor also urged the federal government to update emergency response plans that use the state as a partner.

Freight trains carrying crude oil across New York use three long segments of freight rail:

— Trains traveling from Chicago use CSX tracks running through Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica to terminals in the Albany area.

— Trains traveling from Montreal use the Canadian Pacific's New York freight line to head south via Rouses Point through Plattsburg along Lake Champlain to Saratoga and Albany.

— The CSX river line along the western shore of the Hudson River carries oil that comes into the Albany area from the other two rail segments. The remainder moves through the Port of Albany by tanker and barge south on the Hudson River to coastal refineries.

Global Partners LP, which operates the Albany terminal where crude-by-rail is transferred to ships and barges, announced Wednesday it will no longer accept DOT-111 tank cars starting June 1.

The Coast Guard, the lead agency handling spills along waterways, is updating its plan for spills involving oil and hazardous materials in New York and New Jersey. The current plan dates back to 2011.

Earlier this month, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York urged the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency to quickly update that plan, officially called the New York and New Jersey Area Contingency Plan.

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said Wednesday that freight rail carriers also should provide more information to local first responders about hazardous materials traveling in their rail cars.

The railroads currently provide that information to the state.


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