Following several derailments involving trains carrying crude oil, BNSF Railway Co. said it would voluntarily enact several measures designed to improve safety.

BNSF spokesman Michael Trevino told NGI’s Shale Daily that the Fort Worth-based company would immediately slow trains loaded with crude to 35 miles per hour when traveling through cities with a population of 100,000 or more.

“We’re going to increase the track inspection frequency for our tracks that are near waterways, and then we’re reducing our tolerance for when a wayside detector provides an indication of a wheel defect in either a car or a locomotive,” Trevino said Tuesday. “Reducing the tolerance means that we will effectively take out [defective] cars at a lower threshold.”

According to Trevino, railroads voluntarily agreed in February 2014 to increase the frequency of track inspections, to a rate essentially double the number required by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration. That same month, the DOT issued an emergency order requiring rail carriers to test crude oil before transport, and barred them from using the weakest packing classification for crude (see Shale Daily, Feb. 26, 2014).

“We will begin increasing those track inspections at a rate of two-and-a-half times the required federal rate,” Trevino said.

Last month, a 105-car BNSF train loaded with crude oil from the Bakken Shale derailed and caught fire near Galena, IL, and a 109-car CSX Corp. train derailed and burned in southern West Virginia in February (see Shale Daily, March 6; Feb. 17). Another BNSF train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded near Casselton, ND, in December 2013 (see Shale Daily, Dec. 31, 2013).

But the issue of transporting oil by rail took on a new urgency in July 2013 after a train carrying Bakken crude crashed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people (see Shale Daily, July 9, 2013).

Trevino said the new safety measures at BNSF were not a result of its investigation into the derailment in Galena. “It is clear to us that our own incident and other recent incidents have highlighted community concerns about crude by rail,” he said. “While we wait for a new rule on tank car standards to come from the DOT, we concluded that we needed to take action now.”

Regulators in Canada and the United States are making separate efforts to phase out DOT-111 tank cars from transporting flammable liquids, on the grounds that the cars have dangerous design flaws (see Shale Daily, July 25, 2013). Discussions between the two countries are reportedly ongoing.

Transport Canada announced last month that it was close to enacting a final rule for higher standards for tank cars that transport flammable liquids (see Shale Daily, March 12; Jan. 14, 2014). But days later, the Transportation Board of Canada said regulators’ plans to set 2025 as the deadline to phase out DOT-111 tank cars wasn’t early enough (see Shale Daily, March 19).

In the U.S., a bill sponsored by four Democrats in the Senate would immediately ban the use of DOT-111 and unjacketed CPC-1232 tank cars for the shipment of crude oil (see Shale Daily, March 25). The bill also calls for a host of other changes, including new tougher tank car design standards, increased fines for violations and additional disclosures by railroads.

According to reports, Virginia’s State Water Control Board has levied more than $379,500 in fines against CSX for a derailment that occurred in April 2014. Sixteen cars of a 105-car train, all loaded with Bakken crude, derailed in downtown Lynchburg. Three of the 16 cars fell into the James River, and one of them caught fire and burned.

An investigation by CSX and the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) found that approximately 98% of the more than 29,000 gallons of crude oil in the breached tanker was consumed in the fire. The fine includes $361,000 in civil charges and more than $18,500 to cover the cost of the DEQ’s investigation.