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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

U.S., Canada push for safer oil tankers on North Country rails

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Late Friday, U.S. and Canadian agencies made an unprecedented joint call for tough new safety rules for train cars carrying crude oil. As David Sommerstein reports, the tankers in question roll through North Country towns where speed limits have recently been increased.

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David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada cited a string of violent explosions when tankers carrying crude oil derailed and punctured – including last month in North Dakota, and last year in the blast in Lac Megantic, Quebec that killed 47 people.

NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman told NPR Friday she’s particularly concerned with older tankers called DOT-111s.

HERSMAN: We want to make sure that if there is a derailment, if there is a collision, that these tank cars maintain their integrity because once we see a failure of one tank car, it starts a pool fire and it spreads to the other tank cars.

Last summer, North Country Public Radio reported these cars have been deemed unsafe by the NTSB for more than 20 years, and they regularly roll through North Country towns, including those where CSX recently increased train speeds from 25 to 40 miles per hour.

The two agencies called for better hazardous materials route planning and emergency response plans. The rail industry itself called for new tankers to be built to better standards two years ago. But there’s disagreement over whether to retrofit the thousands of existing DOT-111s to make them safer.

Earlier this month, Congressman Bill Owens co-sponsored a bill to tighten rail safety standards. In a press release, Owens called the binational recommendations “a promising first step”.

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