Train Derailments a Reminder That Health and Safety Agencies Need to Act More Urgently to Protect the Public

May 1, 2014

Train Derailments a Reminder That Health and Safety Agencies Need to Act More Urgently to Protect the Public

Statements by Amit Narang and Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen

Note: A train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Virginia on Wednesday, and a train carrying coal derailed in Maryland on Thursday. Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate in Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, and Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, issued the following statements.

Amit Narang said:

“The rash of recent train derailments involving explosive cargo, including Wednesday’s derailment and explosion in the heart of Lynchburg, Virginia, is a painful and tragic reminder that our health and safety agencies are failing to act fast enough to protect the public. We need rail safety measures now that protect workers as well as communities in danger zones along routes frequented by freight trains.

Unfortunately, as the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board’s recently articulated, the process of issuing new rail safety measures takes too long and needs to be “fast-tracked.”

This is another in a long string of wake-up calls to lawmakers: We need our agencies responding to emerging public health and safety crises now, not drowning in endless cost-benefit analysis, considering countless less protective alternatives or succumbing to the litany of delay tactics used by opponents of updated rules, no matter the cost to the public.

The barrage of anti-regulatory rhetoric from conservative think tanks and elected officials obscures the fact that many industries say they want and need regulation to provide safety and certainty. Even freight rail industry figures have called for updated rules.”

Tyson Slocum said:

“The oil these rail cars have been carrying is more volatile because of the kind of oil involved and in some cases the chemicals used in extraction, adding new hazards. The number of trains has increased, as has the number of cars in each train, which needs to be limited.

We need to have rules that inform people in areas where these trains are operating ahead of time that trains are coming. The government needs to coordinate with state officials to update emergency response plans, and freight rail carriers must provide more information to first responders about the hazardous materials moving through communities. The volatility of each crude blend can differ wildly, so first responders need to know what hazard they’re dealing with in an emergency.

More accidents are occurring as a result of ramped-up oil production, and it’s a boom for the industry but a bust for the communities being put at risk.

Even implementing stronger regulations will not completely eliminate the risk of accidents. Transporting oil – whether by rail, pipeline or sea tanker, from offshore oil drilling rigs or onshore oil drilling operations – is an inherently dangerous activity and simply not sustainable.”

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