On Tuesday, the US Department of Transportation said that it issued an “emergency order requiring stricter standards to transport crude oil by rail” and in its press release said that this was the “fourth emergency order or safety advisory on crude oil in the last seven months”.
Unfortunately, this order, with the others it’s issued, is very weak and does not even begin to address the health and safety issues, let alone the climate change issues, of shipping crude oil by train.
The order seems to require two things: that shippers test the crude oil before shipping, and that they classify it as “Packing Group I or II” and not III. These seem like things that should have always been the case, and if you look at the rail industry’s own analysis, it doesn’t seem like much has changed – see Most Bakken crude can move under FRA Emergency Order in Railway Age, which notes that “[t]he order authorizes the continued use of DOT-111 cars for all types of crude while the FRA pursues its review of tank car standards”.
In other words, the oil industry can continue to send bomb trains around the country.
Similarly, the earlier advisory that trains should not be routed near where people live has no teeth; it helps us in Pittsburg argue against the WesPac project, but for existing rail routes, it is meaningless, because the tracks already go through populated areas.
In the meantime, the DOT will wait until at least 2015 to even respond to the recommendation that the dangerous DOT-111A tankers cars be phased out. Robert Collier has an excellent breakdown on his ClimateSpeak blog: More half-steps for rail safety.
If you wish to delve further, check out highlights of the hearing in the House about rail safety.