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Congressman Peter DeFazio

Representing the 4th District of OREGON

DeFazio urges hearing following latest train derailment

Jan 7, 2014
Press Release
Washington, DC – Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-4) today called on leaders of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to hold a hearing to investigate the safety of rail cars used to carry hazardous materials across the U.S. The Congressman’s request comes one week after a train derailment and fire near Casselton, North Dakota.

The derailment prompted a warning from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which stated that the type of crude oil being transported from North Dakota may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.

“This was not the first incident of its type, and I fear, not the last,” DeFazio said. “It’s beyond irresponsible to ignore. The combination of unsafe rail cars, mixed with exceptionally dangerous oil, is a recipe for disaster. These trains travel thousands of miles through our country, including directly through big cities. Do we really want to wait for a major incident with mass casualties in the U.S. before someone takes action? I don’t think so.”

The full text of DeFazio’s letter is below.

Dear Chairmen Shuster and Denham and Ranking Members Rahall and Brown:

The recent derailment and resulting fire on a train carrying crude oil near Casselton, North Dakota, is just the latest in a string of accidents that call into question the safety of rail cars carrying hazardous materials.  That’s why I am writing to request that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hold a hearing as soon as possible to examine the safety of our nation’s rail cars, specifically DOT-111 tank cars that are used to transport crude oil.

For years the safety of DOT-111 tank cars has been a concern of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  According to a March 2012 letter from the Chairman of the NTSB to the Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), “DOT-111 tank cars have a high incidence of tank failures during accidents.  Previous NTSB investigations that identified the poor performance of DOT-111 tank cars include a May 1991 safety study as well as NTSB investigations of a June 30, 1992, derailment in Superior, Wisconsin; a February 9, 2003, derailment in Tamaroa, Illinois; and an October 20, 2006, derailment of an ethanol unit train in New Brighton, Pennsylvania.”[i]  But, it was a derailment in Cherry Valley, Illinois, on June 19, 2009, that led NTSB to make the following safety recommendations to PHMSA in that same March 2012 letter:

  • Require that all newly manufactured and existing general service tank cars authorized for

transportation of denatured fuel ethanol and crude oil in Packing Groups I and II have

enhanced tank head and shell puncture resistance systems and top fittings protection that

exceeds existing design requirements for DOT-111 tank cars. (R-12-5)

  • Require that all bottom outlet valves used on newly manufactured and existing non-pressure tank cars are designed to remain closed during accidents in which the valve and operating handle are subjected to impact forces. (R-12-6)
  • Require that all newly manufactured and existing tank cars authorized for transportation

of hazardous materials have center sill or draft sill attachment designs that conform to the

revised Association of American Railroads’ design requirements adopted as a result of

Safety Recommendation R-12-9. (R-12-7)[ii]

The number of carloads of oil being shipped by rail has increased dramatically in recent years as a result of increased oil production from the Bakken region; and, just last week, PHMSA issued preliminary guidance indicating “that the type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.”[iii] Despite a significant increased in the number of shipments and the likelihood that shipments are more hazardous than previously thought, the safety of the majority of the rail cars carrying these shipments has not increased. 

In March 2011, the American Association of Railroads petitioned PHMSA to request that it adopt new standards developed by AAR’s North American Tank Car Committee for packing group I and II hazardous materials, which includes DOT-111 crude oil.  AAR decided to go ahead and adopt these standards in July 2011 and all new tank cars ordered after October 2011 meet these higher standards.  Currently 25 percent of the tank cars used to move crude oil met the AAR standards, but the other 75 percent of tank cars do not.  PHMSA has not yet developed its own standards or adopted those created by AAR.  Meanwhile, no action has been taken to retrofit existing cars or phase out the current fleet of cars which have an average life span of 30 to 40 years.  

In September of 2013, PHMSA issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to improve the safety of rail tank car transportation.  It is my understanding that PHMSA is currently going through comments it received and has begun an economic and policy analysis of potential regulatory actions.  But, a rulemaking process will take months, if not years and I don’t think Congress should wait.  The Federal Government must ensure that the rail cars being used to ship crude oil from the Bakken region will keep the crude oil contained, controlled and the public protected when accidents inevitably occur.  That’s why I am requesting that the committee hold a hearing to further examine this issue. 

Thank you for your consideration of this request.




Member of Congress


[i] & [i]i  Deborah Hersman, Chairman of National Transportation Safety Board to Cynthia Quarterman Administrator, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, March 2, 2012


[iii] Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration--Safety Alert, “Preliminary Guidance from OPERATING CLASSIFICATION,” January 2, 2014