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A train of oil tankers. Photo: Some rights reserved.
A train of oil tankers. Photo: Some rights reserved.

Government wakes up to dangerous crude oil cars

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Governor Cuomo has issued an executive order calling on state agencies to review their preparedness for an oil spill or explosion from rail cars. The move comes amidst growing awareness that shipments of volatile crude oil from North Dakota are skyrocketing nationwide. David Sommerstein reports.

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David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

The domestic oil boom has meant more crude on the rails. And that’s led to more accidents. Massive explosions in North Dakota and Lac Megantic, Quebec are the highest profile examples. But according to an investigation by the Washington Post, more crude oil was spilled on U.S. railways last year than any other in nearly four decades.

On Wednesday, Governor Cuomo cited an increase in crude oil shipments on 1,000 miles of rail across the state. He specifically mentioned the line along Lake Champlain from Rouses Point on the Canadian border to Albany. Cuomo ordered state agencies to be ready with emergency response plans and to review their safety regulations for rail traffic.

Joe Martens is commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

MARTENS: Clearly, there have been disasters in other places as a result of rail problems. So we want to prevent that from happening in New York and we want to take every possible precaution we probably can to make sure those things don’t happen.

Cuomo’s directive comes a week after the Transportation Safety Boards in the U.S. and Canada made an unprecedented joint call for tougher safety rules for rail oil tankers. Now a lot of attention is on the safety of an aging fleet of tankers that transport most of the crude oil.

REP. OWENS: I think it crept up on us. People didn’t see it coming. Now we’ve had these accidents, people are going to focus on it.

Congressman Bill Owens co-sponsored a bill – and the agencies and Governor Cuomo echoed this recommendation – to investigate retrofitting a certain kind of oil tanker car. The DOT-111 was deemed unsafe by regulators 20 years ago but still accounts for some two-thirds of the tanker stock in use today.

OWENS: Clearly, the DOT-111 rail cars are moving most of the oil and we need to get our arms round what the level of danger is, what the cost is to fix that danger, and then make some decisions.

The owners of those rail cars agreed two year ago to introduce new, safer cars when old ones are retired. But they’ve so far been reluctant to retrofit existing tankers.

Governor Cuomo’s executive order calls for agencies to submit a report on their emergency response capacities by the end of April.

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