COLUMN-U.S. oil trains are taking high-stakes risks with lives: Kemp

Tue Feb 17, 2015 8:33am EST
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(John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own)

By John Kemp

LONDON Feb 17 (Reuters) - Five hundred and ninety one days have passed since a train carrying crude oil derailed and incinerated the town of Lac Megantic in Quebec.

In that time, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has still not finalised new safety rules on tank car standards and operational controls for trains carrying highly flammable liquids.

DOT started working on new rules in April 2012 -- more than a year before the devastating fire at Lac Megantic in July 2013, which claimed the lives of 47 people -- so the process has so far taken 1,041 days.

DOT has now sent a draft to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for final review and revisions but does not expect the final rule to be gazetted until May 12.

Even then, new tank car standards could be phased in over several years by 2017/18, and oil shippers are pressing for an even longer transition period.

If the timetable now sticks, it will have taken at least six years to implement new standards for tank cars that were recognised as necessary back in 2012. It is an astonishing example of regulatory failure.

This is unacceptably slow. While regulators, lobbyists and lawyers for crude shippers have been sparring in Washington over whether new standards are necessary, and how long the industry should be given to comply with them, crude-carrying trains have been derailing and catching fire with frightening frequency.   Continued...