Gov. Jay Inslee today met with Sarah Feinberg, Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, to discuss the recent oil train derailment in Mosier, OR, options for curtailing oil train transport of Bakken crude through Washington state, and the need to speed up and strengthen numerous oil train and track safety requirements.
“Today I met with federal authorities to make it clear that current regulations and practices are not adequate,” Inslee said. “I’m not interested in symbolic measures. It is unclear at this point whether the FRA has the authority to order a stop to unsafe oil train transport, but they committed to looking into what they can do and will revisit what can be done to halt UP’s Bakken oil train transport until necessary safety improvements are made.”
A preliminary inspection report issued yesterday by the FRA indicates that Union Pacific, the railroad company whose train derailed in Mosier, did not adequately inspect railroad tracks and that an electronic braking system would have resulted in fewer derailed cars. The FRA report makes clear that the cause of the derailment was a failure to maintain the track and equipment, and better inspections are necessary.
Inslee made a separate request to UP to halt all oil train shipments in Washington until they improve inspection protocols to include walking the track on a more frequent schedule.
Crude oil shipments by rail in Washington increased from zero to more than 700 million gallons in 2013. Inslee issued a directive in June 2014 that laid the groundwork for the Oil Safety Transportation Act passed in 2015. Notably, the Act requires railroads to notify local communities when oil trains will be moving through their communities, increases rail and crossing inspections, and improves response capabilities for spills and accidents.
But federal preemption limits what states are able to do. Inslee has repeatedly called on the U.S. Department of Transportation to strengthen federal oversight of crude by rail shipment. His requests include slower train speeds, a more rapid transition to new tank cars, modern electronic braking systems and a prohibition on storage of crude oil in unattended tank cars.
Inslee has criticized the new rules adopted by USDOT last year for falling far short of what’s needed to better protect communities against derailments that result in spills, explosions, and in some cases, loss of life.
“Action at the federal level is imperative. Slower train speeds, faster phase-out of older tank cars and electronic braking systems are real actions that can prevent potentially devastating accidents,” Inslee said. “I made clear to Feinberg that federal regulators need to act on these things immediately. We’ve asked UP to halt their trains until they implement needed inspection protocols. A moratorium should be placed on any oil trains in Washington using track that is not inspected to these rigorous standards. I will continue pressing federal regulators and the railroads for swift action.”