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Crude-by-Rail Grants Intended to Improve Safety

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is offering states $10 million in competitive grants to improve railroad track and highway-rail crossings.

In issuing guidelines for potential grant applications on Tuesday, FRA and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) urged states to come up with "innovative solutions" in their grant applications, a FRA spokesperson said.

The DOT “has made increasing safety at highway-rail grade crossings, especially along routes transporting energy products, one of its top priorities," said DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx. "This money allows the department to support innovative ideas and solutions developed at the local level, and I encourage states to apply for the funding."

Rail shipments of oil have drawn increasing scrutiny after a derailment killed 50 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec two years ago (see Shale DailyJuly 25, 2013). The derailment prompted Canadian and U.S. officials to stiffen rules for oil transport in tank cars (see Shale DailyMay 1).

Under new rules, railroads transporting crude oil and other flammable cargo must notify individual state and Native American tribal emergency response units when Bakken Shale crude is transported from North Dakota. Since May 2014, trains with 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude -- about 35 tank cars -- are subject to the notification requirement.

FRA last month informed Congress that efforts to get the rail industry to adopt automatic emergency stopping technology, Positive Train Control (PTC), by the end of this year are falling short. "Most railroads will miss the Dec. 31, 2015 PTC implementation deadline that Congress established in 2008," Foxx told a Congressional committee.

"PTC prevents train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits and a train going to the wrong track because a switch was left in the wrong position," a spokesperson said.

On Wednesday FRA officials said highway-rail grade crossing collisions are the second leading cause of rail-related fatalities; last year 269 individuals died in these collisions. The number of collisions rose last year for the first time in a decade.

"Most of these deaths are completely preventable, and that is why the FRA has redoubled its efforts to reverse last year's upward trend," said FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg. She said the grant funds should encourage states to find innovative solutions.

For crude-by-rail, FRA is counting on its new rule that "raises the bar" on safety, requiring stronger tank cars and electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes that activate simultaneously on all cars. The ECP technology shortens the distance required to stop the train and helps prevent derailments.

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