The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Jared Margolis

Proposed Bill Major Step Forward for Preventing Fiery Oil Train Derailments

Congressional Bill Follows Major Rail Accidents in West Virginia, Illinois, Ontario


In response to the recent spate of fiery derailments that have highlighted the dangers posed by oil trains, Senators Maria Cantwell, (D-Wash.), Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.), and Tammy Baldwin, (D-Wis.), have proposed a bill that would remove the most dangerous tank cars from service, increase track inspections, and help to ensure that first responders have the equipment needed to respond to derailments.

"It's painfully clear something needs to be done to protect people and the environment from the mounting dangers of these oil trains, and this bill is an important step in the right direction," said Jared Margolis, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species. "Our view is that oil trains should be stopped because of the inherent dangers to the public and wildlife, and their role in climate disruption. Although this bill doesn't go that far, it provides important protections that would help limit the risks to people and the environment from oil train derailments. We hope that Congress will act quickly to pass it before another train derails, explodes and spills more oil."

The bill would also require the U.S. Department of Transportation to set a national standard for the maximum volatility of oil being transported by rail, which would help prevent the massive explosions that followed recent derailments in Canada and West Virginia.

"The recent explosions and dangerous amount of oil spilled from rail cars over the last few years are unmistakable signals that we need immediate action to protect the public," said Margolis. "These protections must be put in place before another explosive derailment occurs in a densely populated area, or harms land or rivers essential for both people and wildlife."

The Center has petitioned DOT for stricter tank car standards and to require comprehensive oil-spill response plans for oil trains, but the federal government has been slow to respond. This bill would force it to immediately take steps the Center has been calling for to protect people and the environment from harm.

The Center has also petitioned for a rule that would limit the weight of oil trains, a factor that has contributed to the recent fiery derailments, and has joined rail safety experts in calling for dramatically reduced speeds for oil trains.

"Removing the most dangerous tank cars and requiring oil shippers to have comprehensive spill response plans is a start," said Margolis. "But ultimately, if we're going to avoid dangerous oil-train derailments and avoid the climate catastrophe, we must move away from these dangerous, polluting fossil fuels altogether."

In response to recent accidents, DOT has proposed weak standards that would allow the most dangerous tank cars to remain in service for several years, and for oil trains to travel at speeds well in excess of what is advisable based on their safety features. Even these standards have been opposed by some oil industry lobbyists. The delays and lax proposed safety rules highlight the need for the legislation that would force more immediate steps to reduce the likelihood of more tragic accidents and ensure communities are more prepared if they do occur.

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.

(520) 623-5252