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A train in Casselton, North Dakota carrying crude oil derailed and exploded on Dec. 30, 2013. Photo: Ken Pawluk / Associated Press / latimes.com, via NTSB press release
A train in Casselton, North Dakota carrying crude oil derailed and exploded on Dec. 30, 2013. Photo: Ken Pawluk / Associated Press / latimes.com, via NTSB press release

Lawmakers seek reform on 'unsafe' rail cars

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North Country Congressman Bill Owens is joining a bipartisan effort to require rail companies to retrofit tanker cars the federal government deemed unsafe years ago. Owens became involved in the issue after a series of reports by North Country Public Radio. David Sommerstein reports.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

The Democrat Bill Owens and North Dakota Republican Kevin Cramer cite recent derailments and, in some cases, massive explosions, in British Columbia, Alabama, North Dakota, and Lac Megantic, Quebec as “warning signs” that railways lack “adequate protections”.

The bipartisan lawmakers specifically call out the DOT-111 tanker car. As reported by North Country Public Radio last fall, those tankers, which often carry crude oil, ethanol, and liquid chemicals, were deemed “unsafe” by federal regulators more than 20 years ago. The reports confirmed that DOT-111s do transport those hazardous materials through North Country towns, including where CSX has recently increased train speed limits from 25 to 40 miles per hour.

In letters to the Federal Railroad Administration and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Owens and Cramer call for better inspections and oversight of hazmat classifications and new speed limits for freight trains carrying hazardous materials. Owens says the government needs to strike a balance between the needs of business and “public and environmental safety”.

The trade group representing freight carriers has already begun purchasing more safe replacements to the DOT-111 tankers. But switching out the entire fleet will take years. Last week, New York Senator Chuck Schumer called for the industry to retrofit the existing DOT-111s to make them safer.

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