Retrofit Hazardous Railway Oil Carriers

Target: U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood

Goal: Demand overhaul of safety standards for railway cars transporting oil

As oil companies have exceeded the capacity of existing pipelines to transport oil to refineries, they’ve turned to railway cars – a risky alternative prone to catastrophic spills and accidents. Railway carriers have become the primary transportation method for oil throughout the U.S. and Canada, but deregulation of the industry and outdated safety standards must be revamped to prevent future disasters.

In light of the recent explosion of a train carrying oil Quebec, the need to improve safety standards of railway cars has become increasingly urgent. The railway cars involved in the accident “represent more than two-thirds of the rail fleet carrying crude oil,” reported Business Week. After derailing, the cars exploded, spilling five million liters of crude oil into the town of Lac-Mégantic. Following the 2009 deadly oil tanker explosion in Illinois, the National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation of the hazards of oil-by-rail transport. This revealed critical design flaws such as easily punctured thin steel shells and fragile valves that break during major accidents.

However, these findings aren’t new. The same design flaws in railway cars today were published in safety studies as far back as 1991. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has called for a retrofit of existing freight rail carriers and stricter federal design and safety standards to prevent potential explosions or spills. The Obama administration has been working to establish a new set of rules to reduce the hazards of the dangerous railway cars but delays have pushed back final rulings until 2014. According to Grist, it’s unclear whether the new regulations would apply to the fleet of 40,000 older cars currently in use or solely to newer models.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has reported opposition to the retrofit proposal by the railway and oil industries due to technical challenges and expense, as well as the need for “additional coordination among officials and interested groups.” The feasibility and success of new safety regulations will depend upon cooperation by multiple stakeholders, which is why the U.S. Department of Transportation must be more assertive in demanding an overhaul of safety regulations for railway transport of oil.


Dear Mr. LaHood,

As U.S. Transportation Secretary, revamping safety regulations for oil-by-rail transport should be a priority, not a decision to be delayed by corporate interests. The defects in railway cars linked to catastrophic oil spills and accidents have been known for decades. This negligence by the government and transportation sector has resulted in disastrous spills and continues to endanger public safety, infrastructure, and the environment.

Senator Schumer, a leader in the fight for improved safety standards, describes the current regulations as, “flawed, out-of-date and a factor in hazardous material spills during derailments.” We demand a retrofit of existing railway cars to correct design flaws and an overhaul of safety regulations for future cars to ensure that disasters like the explosive crash in Quebec don’t occur again.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Sûreté du Québec via Wikimedia Commons

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