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BLET urges FRA to require additional buffer cars on crude oil trains

CLEVELAND, May 1 — The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen is urging the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the nation’s Class 1 rail carriers to take action to address a serious shortcoming in current railroad operating regulations that endangers the lives of train crew members who work on crude oil trains.

Specifically, the BLET is asking the FRA to take regulatory action to mandate an increased number of buffer cars between the lead locomotive and trailing tank cars that contain oil. Current regulations require five buffer cars on a mixed freight train if the first car contains oil, but through a loophole in the regulations, only one buffer car is required on unit oil trains that could contain over 100 oil tankers. In derailments, locomotives can be a primary ignition source for spilled oil.

“Since engine and train crews occupy the cab of that potential ignition source, there should be as much distance away from the fuel source as possible,” wrote BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce in a letter to FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg on April 28, 2015. “Five cars may be insufficient, but one car is obviously not enough.

“The recent series of unit oil train derailments makes it plain for all to see that [the current] rule bears no relationship whatsoever to safe operations,” Pierce continued. “A change in the rule would require minor, easily accommodated operational changes and not the need for some expensive technology.”

Not only would the extra buffer cars make for a safer work environment, Pierce wrote, it would also allow train crew members to help ensure public safety in the event of future oil train derailments.

“The Casselton, North Dakota wreck and the more recent CSX accident at Mount Carbon, West Virginia could have been much worse were it not for a two-person crew taking swift action to separate the locomotive consist from the train containing more explosive crude oil,” Pierce wrote.

Considering the predicted likelihood of future derailments, Pierce said now is the time to take proactive measures to prevent possible tragedies.

“With the U.S. Department of Transportation projecting ten crude oil or ethanol related derailments a year for the next two decades costing $4 billion annually, and 2015 on target to exceed that number, BLET respectfully requests that FRA take appropriate proactive measures to ensure that train crews have a chance to escape the aftermath of such derailments with their health and lives intact,” Pierce wrote.

In addition to urging the FRA to act, the BLET is also requesting that the nation’s Class 1 railroads “take immediate voluntary action to address this serious weakness in the current regulations by adding additional buffer cars to all unit oil trains.”

The action by BLET is in tandem with a call by its Teamsters Rail Conference partners Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) to reduce the frequency of oil train derailments by increasing track maintenance. According to BMWED National President Freddie N. Simpson: “The wear and tear on the track structure, coupled with the volatility of the commodities being transported, requires additional track maintenance to stay ahead of the rate of track degradation.” The BLET and BMWED are member Divisions of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Friday, May 1, 2015
bentley@ble-t.org

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