UPDATE 1-U.S. Transportation Dept pushes tough oil train standards-sources

Thu Feb 12, 2015 6:11pm EST
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(Adds detail, DOT comment in paragraph 11, 12, 13, 16)

By Patrick Rucker and David Ljunggren

WASHINGTON/OTTAWA Feb 12 (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Department has recommended crude oil trains be reinforced and have advanced braking systems installed to prevent accidents from becoming fiery disasters, according to sources familiar with the plan.

The proposal, which now faces a White House review, envisions safety improvements that public advocates endorse but oil and rail leaders have said would mean high costs for modest safety gains.

The plan would require adding an extra 1/8th inch of steel to most existing oil train tank shells, while new models would have the thicker hull installed on the factory floor.

Future tank cars would also be fitted with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, or ECP brakes, which would trigger all axles simultaneously rather than one at a time in current design.

It would take at least $3 billion over the next 20 years to enact the plan, according to a government estimate, but oil and rail executives see much higher costs they say would needlessly hinder a sector that has helped push a national energy renaissance.

Complying with the DOT proposal would send roughly 90,000 existing tank cars into workshops for at least $30,000 in upgrades each or to the scrap heap because the improvements are too costly, according to industry and official estimates.

Roughly 70 percent of the fuel produced in North Dakota's Bakken oil patch moves on the tracks and passes through hundreds of communities before reaching far-flung refineries.   Continued...