Petition Seeks to Limit Length, Weight of Oil and Hazardous Material Trains to Prevent More Derailments

For Immediate Release

Petition Seeks to Limit Length, Weight of Oil and Hazardous Material Trains to Prevent More Derailments

Existing Federal Proposals Fail to Sufficiently Protect Public, Environment From “Bomb Trains”

PORTLAND, Ore. - In the face of a dramatic rise in trains carrying explosive crude oil and derailing in a series of devastating accidents, the Center for Biological Diversity and Riverkeeper, Inc. today petitioned the Obama administration to protect the public and environment by significantly reducing the risk of oil train derailments by limiting the length and weight of trains hauling oil and other hazardous liquids.

Federal regulators have acknowledged that the weight and length of oil trains has contributed to derailments and spills in recent years, and that, in all cases, the size of a train compounds the potential significance of a disaster. But agencies have not proposed any solutions to address this concern. In fact the latest federal proposal aimed at improving tanker car safety admits the rule could result in longer, heavier trains.

“One of the quickest ways to make these oil trains safer is limiting how much of this volatile crude oil they can carry,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney at the Center who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species. “The government has acknowledged the dangers of these massive trains — now it needs to take action to protect people and wildlife from spills and derailments.”

Today’s petition calls for oil trains to be limited to 4,000 tons, which is the weight the American Association of Railroads has determined to be a “no problem” train, meaning there would be significantly less risk of derailment. This would limit oil trains to 30 cars. Most oil trains today include about 100 cars — well beyond what the industry has determined to be truly safe.

“Federal regulators have admitted these oil trains pose a significant risk to life, property and the environment, and granting our petition would significantly reduce those risks,” said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director for Riverkeeper. “The government, to date, has left the lid off this explosive industry — setting a cap on train length and weight is a necessary, logical, safety step that is one of the simplest ways to reduce the risks that our communities, first responders and ecosystems are confronted with on a daily basis.”

Oil transport, especially by rail, has dramatically increased in recent years, growing from virtually nothing in 2008 to more than 400,000 rail cars of oil in 2013. Billions of gallons of oil pass through towns and cities ill equipped to respond to the kinds of explosions and spills that have been occurring. A series of fiery oil-train derailments in the United States and Canada has resulted in life-threatening explosions and hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil being spilled into waterways.

The worst was a derailment in Quebec that killed 47 people, forced the evacuation of 2,000 people, and incinerated portions of a popular tourist town. The most recent explosive derailment occurred in April in downtown Lynchburg, Va., resulting in crude oil leaking out of punctured tank cars, setting the James River on fire and putting habitat and drinking water supplies at risk.

Without regulations that will effectively prevent derailments, oil trains will continue to threaten people, drinking water supplies and wildlife, including endangered species.

“This petition directly tackles one of the root causes of these dangerous, unnecessary oil train derailments,” said Margolis. “We’ll continue to push regulators until they step up and ensure the safety of people, wildlife and the environment we all share.”

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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