Trains carrying crude oil will be restricted to a 40 mph speed limit in populated areas such as New York under an order by the U.S. Department of Transportation in response to a series of derailments.
Railroads voluntarily agreed to that speed limit in so-called High Threat Urban Areas, a designation that covers more than three dozen cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington.
The emergency order issued April 17 makes that agreement mandatory for all railroads hauling 20 or more tank cars linked together or 35 cars in total that are filled with oil or other flammable liquids. It applies to older model DOT-111 tank cars and CPC-1232s the industry has been voluntarily building since 2011.
“This order is necessary due to the recent occurrence of railroad accidents involving trains transporting petroleum crude oil and ethanol and the increasing reliance on railroads to transport voluminous amounts of those hazardous material in recent years,” the notice states.
The White House Office of Management and Budget is reviewing a proposal from the Transportation Department that would require a more durable type of tank car be used to transport oil and other flammable liquids. That rule may be released next month.
A draft of that rule calls for tank cars with a thicker steel shell, more robust top fittings and better brakes.
Questions about the safety of the growing fleet of trains carrying oil arose after an unattended train broke from its moorings in 2013 and rolled into Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. This year, oil trains have derailed in Ontario and in West Virginia and Illinois, creating dramatic images of fireballs billowing from rumpled tank cars.
The Transportation Department also issued a notice April 17 to ensure railroads provide information to investigators after an accident within 90 minutes, including about the volatility of the oil being hauled and the type of railcar in the train.
Investigators suspect an accident last month in Galena, Illinois, was related to a broken wheel, and in another step announced April 17, the Transportation Department recommended tighter standards for replacing wheels than the industry currently observes.
Railroads should “provide special attention” to the condition of the tank cars they haul, the order states.