WRAPUP 1-Oil-rail safety pressure mounts as older tank cars seen in Canada

Thu Jan 9, 2014 8:18pm EST
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By Solarina Ho and Patrick Rucker

TORONTO/WASHINGTON Jan 9 (Reuters) - Political pressure to quickly improve the safety of crude oil rail shipments intensified in Washington on Thursday, while Canadian officials said two of the cars involved in the latest fiery derailment were of an older variety long faulted by regulators.

After two more dramatic oil-train incidents in just two weeks, several U.S. lawmakers urged swift measures from Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who in turn promised that tougher federal standards for tank cars would come "in weeks, not months," according to North Dakota's Republican Senator John Hoeven.

"The recent derailments and accidents involving crude oil are alarming," Senator Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and energy committee chair Senator Ron Wyden wrote in a letter to regulators. "Taken together, the growing number of incidents requires prompt and decisive action."

The mounting calls come after two recent oil-train incidents in North Dakota and Canada, both of which are believed to have involved a type of tank car that was built before voluntary new standards were adopted in October 2011.

The older model cars, which have been cited as flawed and prone to puncture, have become a focal point in the debate on rail safety regulation as crude-by-rail shipments across the continent surge with the rise of shale oil production.

A Canadian National Railway spokesman said on Thursday that two of the five crude tank cars that derailed and caught fire in New Brunswick on Tuesday were the older DOT-111 models, citing information the company received from the Association of American Railroads.

The older cars were also said to have been involved in the dramatic oil train collision in North Dakota 10 days ago, investigators have said, the latest in a spate of such incidents that have shocked officials and the public with their explosive force and fiery eruption. No one was injured in either case.

While it is not clear what role, if any, the older cars played in the eruptions, regulators are facing more calls from rail operators - who are responsible for the shipments, but do not typically own or lease the tank cars - to press ahead with new rules that would either force owners to upgrade the older versions or pull them out of service.   Continued...