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Pennsylvania’s Wolf Asks Two Operators to Enact Tighter Crude-By-Rail Standards

Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday continued his push for better crude-by-rail safety standards in Pennsylvania, with a letter encouraging two of the state's leading railway operators to "expeditiously" comply with new federal rules for transporting flammable liquids and implement tighter rules of their own.

Wolf sent the letter to CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp., which detailed his "continuing concern about the risks of a crude-by-rail derailment, tank car breach and subsequent explosion that could potentially occur on our current rail lines." In addition to accelerating their compliance with more stringent federal rules rolled-out earlier this month, Wolf asked the companies to follow the voluntary steps taken by competitor Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF) to adopt improved safety initiatives.

BNSF has gone beyond the federal rules with a series of initiatives to protect its crude shipments and the communities its trains travel through, including lowering speeds to 35 miles per hour for all shale crude oil trains traveling through areas with populations of 100,000 or more and increased railway monitoring (see related story).

Although Wolf has little control over rail safety in Pennsylvania as federal regulators oversee it, the letter is the latest of his attempts to address concerns about a series of accidents that have occurred outside the state involving crude oil shipments. According to his administration, however, 60-70 trains carrying oil from North Dakota's Bakken Shale travel through Pennsylvania every week on their way to East Coast refineries.

In February, Wolf sent a letter to President Obama urging expedited federal action to better ensure crude-by-rail safety. After taking office in January, Wolf oversaw an exercise to model the state's response in the event of a crude oil train derailment. He has also hired Allan Zarembski, director of the University of Delaware's Railroad Engineering and Safety Program, to advise the state on rail safety and report about what it can do to reduce risks (see Shale Daily, April 28).

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday to discuss Wolf's initiatives, Zarembski said he would be dissecting recent derailments to see how tank cars ruptured, how volatile the oil was and what could be done to work with railroads in order to tighten up inspection and operating techniques.

Wolf has already met with CSX and Norfolk officials, but asked for another meeting in his letter to discuss their "willingness to adopt the BNSF additional safety measures." In separate statements, the companies said they would be willing to work with Wolf’s administration.

Last year, more than 100 accidents occurred involving the trains, with derailments continuing this year in West Virginia, Illinois and Canada (see Shale Daily, Feb. 17). In response, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a final rule on shipping flammable liquids by rail, including crude oil and other petroleum products (see Shale Daily, May 1).

There have been no major disasters involving crude trains in Pennsylvania. In January 2014, however, a 101-car CSX train partially derailed on a bridge over the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia. Six of the cars were carrying crude oil, but no injuries were reported.

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