NY state comptroller calls on feds to tighten safety measures for oil trains

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli earlier this week asked the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to strengthen safety measures to prevent oil spills and other hazardous accidents on the state’s railways and require oil transporters to carry sufficient insurance to cover cleanup costs and other liabilities in the event of a major incident.

In an April 25 letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, DiNapoli noted that accidents could overwhelm New York communities and environment, as well as the financial resources of state and local governments if the incidents occur without sufficient insurance coverage on the part of shippers and railroads.

DiNapoli, who is the state’s chief fiscal officer and administrator of the New York Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation Fund, cited a USDOT finding that oil shippers and the railroads they use carry insurance that may not be sufficient to cover liabilities resulting from a serious accident involving trains carrying crude oil or other hazardous materials.

“A major accident could impose not only tragic human costs, but loss of local jobs and tax revenues,” DiNapoli said in a press release. “The state has stepped up inspections, but incidents such as the recent derailment in Ripley, N.Y. demonstrate that the risk of a disaster remains a major concern. Federal regulators must do more to protect the taxpayers and communities of New York.”

Trains hauling hazardous or flammable materials cross 21 New York counties.

DiNapoli’s proposed safety measures would:

• assess the need to designate additional municipalities requiring slower train speeds;

• consider rerouting trains carrying hazardous materials around population centers;

• ensure adequate resources and oversight are directed toward track and rail-car maintenance;

• review the FRA’s Action Plan for the Safe Transportation of Energy Products to determine if additional measures are needed to limit risks at grade crossings;

• partner with state and local officials to evaluate emergency response planning and preparedness and determine if adequate resources are available to respond to high-risk spills;

• require that railroad safety plans called for in new federal rules and the results of track and rail-car safety monitoring are shared with State Emergency Response Commissions; and 

• require railroads to obtain insurance or provide financial security to cover emergency response, remediation and other liabilities associated with major accidents.

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