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Oil Railcar Changes Proposed

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Sacramento-area elected officials met in Davis today to support oil transportation legislation and rules changes under consideration by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Congressman John Garamendi has introduced a bill that would limit the pressure caused by flammable and explosive gases in Bakken crude oil shipped by rail to 9.5 pounds-per-square-inch.

While speaking next to large pictures of West Virginia and Quebec derailments, Garamendi said a standard pressure limit would make trains safer if they were to go off the tracks.

"We might be able in a very difficult circumstance to deal with the fire, but we don't want this kind of fireball rising several hundred feet into the air in any of our communities."

The new pressure limit would be the same as the one set by the New York Mercantile Exchange for transportation of crude oil.  

It would be about 20-percent less than the average in current oil cars according to a study by the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

Garamendi says the technology to remove the gases is available at every refinery in the country.

The Department of Railroads is considering standards designed to make oil tankers less susceptible to punctures and heat.

Sarah Feinberg is with the Federal Railroad Administration. She says the agency has been working for the past two years to change regulations on explosive gases in tank cars, the operations of the trains, and the construction of the oil cars.  She says there have already  been two dozen changes to the way oil is shipped by rail.

"We have restricted speed. We have increased inspections -mechanical and track. We have introduced routing protocols so these trains are traveling on certain routes and not others. We have required additional emergency equipment to be placed along the routes. [We have coordinated with mayors and governors and first-responders. We have trained first-responders."]

Feinberg says there is much more to be done. She expects the new train-car regulations to be approved within a matter of weeks. She says oil cars that can not be improved to meet the standards will be retired immediately. Cars requiring minimal upgrades could be given as long as ten years to be retrofitted.

0408 bm train tracks oil car davis

Bob Moffitt

Sacramento Region Reporter

Bob reports on all things northern California and Nevada. His coverage of police technology, local athletes, and the environment has won a regional Associated Press and several Edward R. Murrow awards.   Read Full Bio 

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