Refiners group wants broader approach to crude-by-rail safety

WASHINGTON — Federal regulators seeking to boost the safety of moving oil by rail should focus on improving the integrity of the nation’s train tracks, not just the tank cars that carry crude, a top refining industry representative says.

Charles Drevna, head of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, questioned “how strong a role prevention is playing in the Department of Transportation’s comprehensive strategy” for combating crude-by-rail derailments, in a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

“Any effort to enhance rail safety must begin with addressing track integrity and human factors, which account for 60 percent of derailments,” Drevna said in his letter, sent Monday and released Tuesday. “Investments in accident prevention would result in the greatest reduction in the risk of rail incidents.”

The department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is expected to roll out a final rule setting tougher design specifications for tank cars that carry crude and ethanol later this year. The PHMSA proposal unveiled last year would also impose new speed limits and require better braking systems for trains heaving highly hazardous material, including crude and ethanol.

But oil industry representatives have sought a more “holistic approach,” with many efforts aimed at keeping trains on the track.

Drevna said his group remains “disappointed” that nothing in PHMSA’s proposal “required railroads to buy one more piece of track inspection equipment, hire one more qualified inspector or inspect one more mile of track.”

On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers are growing increasingly frustrated with delays in finalizing those tank car regulations, even as they urge regulators to tackle other issues by setting limits on the amount of volatile gases in crude transported by rail and improving the integrity of roadbeds and tracks.

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Acting Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg told reporters Friday that railroads have made efforts to boost the safety of transporting oil.

“We are running out of things that I think we can ask the railroads to do,” she said, according to published accounts. “We’re running out of things that we can put on the railroads to do, and there have to be other industries that have skin in the game.”

Drevna took issue with that characterization, noting that tank cars built since October 2011 have exceeded existing federal design requirements, instead hewing to a voluntary industry standard.

“AFPM and its members understand that rail safety is a shared responsibility between the shippers and the . . . railroads and we are doing our part as shippers,” he said. “Rail car standards only address one element of rail safety: mitigation after derailment. Measures must also be taken to address what has been continuously shown to be the lead cause of rail accidents: track integrity.”