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Editorial: Swifter action needed for oil transport safety

It’s easy to say that the railroad companies need to do a better job safely transporting highly volatile crude oil from the Bakken field of North Dakota.

And there are several steps that railroad companies like CSX can do to minimize the risk of fiery accidents like the one that occurred near Montgomery, W.Va., last Monday.

Running trains that are shorter than the 107-tank-car length of the recently exploded train is one. Slower train speeds and better track maintenance are other suggestions for safer rail transport, although the cause of this accident is still under investigation.

But it’s not just the railroad companies that need to do a better job: it’s the regulators who are supposed to assure safe rail transport.

The rail industry is still awaiting new rules from the U.S. Transportation Department on “Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operation Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains.”

U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., whose district includes the Montgomery site, said regulators have been working on the rule since 2011.

“Four years is far too long for such an urgent safety priority,” Jenkins wrote to the Secretary of the DOT and director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Rail car makers themselves have grown impatient with the regulatory delay.

“Get on with it,” said Greg Saxton, chief engineer of manufacturing operations for Greenbrier Companies in Lake Oswego, Ore., one of five North American rail car manufacturers.

“You know this rule was supposed to be out the first of this year,” Saxton told West Virginia Public Broadcasting. “Then around the first of the year, they said we’re going to get it out on May 12. Well, this has been going on a lot longer than a couple years, as I say.”

Saxton said the National Transportation Safety Board recognized there were problems with the older generation of rail tank cars more than 20 years ago. “I don’t know how this goes on forever, but we want it to stop.”

Regulators are right to carefully balance the cost and benefits of new regulations with the relative safety risk. Yet inaction stalls safety improvements.

With a more than 70-fold increase in crude oil shipments by rail since 2005, regulators need to be able to quickly and effectively adapt to changes in the industries they regulate.

In related news, AP Exclusive: Fuel-hauling trains could derail at 10 a year.

This article was from Charleston Daily Mail, W.Va. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.