WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Transportation Department issued an emergency order Wednesday requiring that railroads inform state emergency management officials before moving large shipments of crude oil through their states, and urged railroads not to use older model tanks cars that are easily ruptured in accidents, even at slow speeds.
The emergency order requires that each railroad operating trains containing more than 1 million gallons of crude oil -- about 35 tank cars -- from the booming Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and part of Canada provide information on their movement to states they traverse.
Much of the oil from the region is being shipped in trains of 100 cars or more that accident investigators have described as "moving pipelines." The trains move through small towns and big cities alike across the country.
"All options are on the table when it comes to improving the safe transportation of crude oil, and today's actions, the latest in a series that make up an expansive strategy, will ensure that communities are more informed and that companies are using the strongest possible tank cars," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
The emergency order follows a warning two weeks ago from outgoing National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman that the department risks a "higher body count" as the result of fiery oil train accidents if it waits for new safety regulations to become final.
On Monday, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine called for improved safety for rail shipments of crude oil and increased collaboration with local first responders following last week’s derailment of 17 rail tank cars carrying crude oil in downtown Lynchburg.
An estimated 20,000 gallons of crude oil was released into the James River following last week’s derailment and resulting fire. The senators expressed their concerns in a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Following Wednesday's announcement, Sens. Warner and Kaine issued this statement:
“We are pleased to see these emergency actions taken one week to the day after the Lynchburg derailment. This is a simple step to ensure that our railroads are communicating with first responders in Virginia and across the country so they are better informed about the operation of these trains. Emergency response personnel must be prepared to act quickly when accidents occur, and this new requirement to notify state-level emergency management officials is a positive step. We look forward to working with the railroads and state officials to make sure appropriate and timely information is getting into the hands of local first responders so they are prepared.”