WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation has warned railroads that they must continue to notify states of large crude oil shipments after several states reported not getting updated information for as long as a year.
The department imposed the requirement in May 2014 following a series of fiery oil train derailments. It was designed to help state and local emergency officials assess their risk and training needs.
In spite of increased public concern about the derailments, railroads have opposed the public release of the oil train information by numerous states. Two companies sued Maryland in July 2014 to prevent the state from releasing the oil train data to McClatchy.
The rail industry fought to have the requirement dropped, and it appeared it got its wish three months ago in the department’s new oil train rule.
But facing backlash from lawmakers, firefighters and some states, the department announced it would continue to enforce the notification requirement indefinitely and take new steps to make it permanent.
There have been six major oil train derailments in North America this year, the most recent last week near Culbertson, Montana. While that derailment only resulted in a spill, others in Ontario, West Virginia, Illinois and North Dakota involved fires, explosions and evacuations.
In a letter to the companies Wednesday, Sarah Feinberg, the acting chief of the Federal Railroad Administration, told them that the notifications were “crucial” to first responders and state and local officials in developing emergency plans.
States such as Washington, California and Illinois have received updated reports regularly from BNSF Railway, the nation’s leading hauler of crude oil in trains.
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