Press Releases

Jaime Herrera Beutler Presses U.S. Department of Transportation to Study Reducing Combustion Risks of Oil Trains

DOT should study safety benefits of interspersing oil-by-rail tank cars with non-volatile commodities

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Washington, DC, September 26, 2016 | comments
Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler is pressing the U.S. Department of Transportation to study whether breaking up the long lines of oil-carrying rail cars with other non-volatile commodities will reduce combustion risks in the event of a derailment.
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Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler is pressing the U.S. Department of Transportation to study whether breaking up the long lines of oil-carrying rail cars with other non-volatile commodities will reduce combustion risks in the event of a derailment. In a letter to the agency sent recently, Jaime asks for information relating to this potential risk factor that has been voiced by local fire departments, elected officials, and community members.

“Currently, oil trains are traveling along the Columbia River Gorge, and my focus is on ensuring federal regulations are making these shipments as safely as possible,” said Jaime. “Long lines of oil cars are becoming a more familiar sight in our region, and if breaking them up into smaller blocks will better protect our citizens, the Columbia River and nearby forests, we should put a federal standard in place –quickly.”

The text of Jaime’s entire letter follows, and the original can be found by clicking here.

Secretary Foxx and Administrators Dominguez and Feinberg:

On June 3, 2016, an issue of great interest and concern to the people of my district covering Southwest Washington was put in stark relief when we witnessed the derailment of an oil train carrying Bakken Crude Oil in Mosier, Oregon.  Although far less catastrophic than it could have been, the derailment highlighted the need for strong safety measures to address shipments of volatile and hazardous commodities through the Columbia River Gorge—whether related, or unrelated to oil shipments.   Subsequently, I am writing to request information on dispersing tank cars carrying oil, or other hazardous materials, with non-volatile products throughout trains. As you know, there are currently trains moving through Pacific Northwest communities that carry continuous blocks of tank cars loaded with crude oil. I am very concerned that loading trains with consecutive blocks of oil-filled cars, one after another, is only increasing the risks associated with derailments.  

I request your responses to the following questions: 

  • Have agencies studied whether or not continuous blocks of tank cars carrying oil increases the risks of combustion?
  • Have agencies conducted analyses on the potential benefits of requiring disbursement of cars carrying these flammable materials with non-volatile commodities throughout a train, in order to reduce the risks of combustion in derailments or incidents?
  • Have the agencies conducted analyses for a recommended ratio of disbursement of volatile to non-volatile rail car commodities to reduce the risk of combustion in the event of a derailment or incident?  How would this ratio be affected by the use of the DOT-117 tank cars?
  • Have you seen this modeled in the U.S. or elsewhere?
  • Have agencies studied whether or not reducing speeds permitted for oil trains would mitigate the risks of combustion?

Thank you for your attention to these matters. I look forward to receiving your responses. 

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