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Published January 23, 2014, 11:41 AM

Casselton derailment leads NTSB to call for audits, safer routes for crude trains

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the wake of the fiery Casselton, N.D., train crash last month, the National Transportation Safety Board is urging federal regulators to step up safety measures for crude-by-rail shipments.

By: Kyle Potter, Forum News Service, INFORUM, Forum News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the wake of the fiery Casselton, N.D., train crash last month, the National Transportation Safety Board is urging federal regulators to step up safety measures for crude-by-rail shipments.

The NTSB on Thursday issued three safety recommendations to the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration, the two primary federal agencies tasked with overseeing U.S. railroads.

n Regulators should consider re-routing trains carrying hazardous materials like crude oil and ethanol to avoid “populated and other sensitive areas.”

n The FRA and PHMSA should create an audit program to ensure rail carriers have adequate emergency response capabilities to handle a crash or spill.

n Another audit program should be developed to ensure shippers have properly classified the hazardous materials on board.

“The large-scale shipment of crude oil by rail simply didn't exist 10 years ago, and our safety regulations need to catch up with this new reality,” NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said in a news release. “While this energy boom is good for business, the people and the environment along rail corridors must be protected from harm.”

The NTSB also repeated its previous safety warnings about the DOT-111 tank cars, which were in use in Casselton and in the explosive wreck last summer in Quebec, where 47 people died.

After a train hauling ethanol in those cars derailed outside of Rockford, Ill., in 2009, the NTSB concluded in its investigation that the DOT-111 car “can almost always be expected to breach in derailments that involve pileups or multiple car-to-car impacts.”

After that accident, the NTSB pushed for DOT-111s to be strengthened with thicker shells and shields at the front end to protect against punctures, plus other improvements. Those suggestions, the NTSB noted in its recommendations Thursday, are still held up in a lengthy PHMSA rulemaking process that began more than a year ago.

The NTSB is an independent agency charged with investigating transportation accidents, but does not create policy. It released Thursday’s safety recommendations with its Canadian counterpart, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., called their suggestions “commonsense recommendations that can reduce the risk and damage associated with rail accidents” in a news release.

Hoeven noted that the NTSB’s recommendations fall in line with voluntary steps railroad and shipping companies agreed to take last week.

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