UPDATE 1-U.S. Sen. Schumer seeks to turn up heat on railcar safety

Mon Jan 6, 2014 6:21pm EST
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By Julia Edwards and Ros Krasny

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON Jan 6 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Charles Schumer on Monday called for an overhaul of old rail tank cars used to carry crude oil after a spate of explosive derailments over the past year.

The New York Democrat joined a growing number of politicians concerned about the safety of transporting large volumes of oil by rail across the country, calling for a phase-out or retrofit of old tankers that do not meet current safety standards and are prone to puncture.

"There are serious safety concerns about the rail cars that carry this oil and the risk they pose to the lives of New Yorkers, to our infrastructure, and our environment," Schumer told reporters on Monday.

Last week a BNSF train carrying crude oil in the booming oil state of North Dakota derailed and exploded after hitting another derailed train carrying grain. The tank cars involved in that accident were the older type of DOT-111 cars that do not meet new standards introduced in 2011, investigators said.

While no one was injured, it was the fourth major accident in the past year involving a train carrying crude oil. The most devastating occurred in Quebec in July last year, when a train derailed and exploded in the town of Lac Megantic, killing 47.

A boom in U.S. oil production has drastically increased the number of oil trains moving across the country as pipelines fail to keep up with growing supply. In the United States, 1,400 trains carry crude each day today, up from 31 in 2009, according to a figure Schumer cited from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Hundreds of these trains make their way down the Hudson Valley north of New York City each day, heading for oil refineries in New Jersey, according to Schumer.   Continued...