A safety agreement between U.S. transportation officials and railroads that haul volatile crude oil involved in a string of explosive accidents doesn't go far enough to protect upstate New York communities along the oil train route, Sen. Charles Schumer said in a conference call Wednesday.
Schumer said the agreement, announced last week, should be amended to phase out unsafe tanker cars and reduce train speed in populated areas.
The agreement between the U.S. Transportation Department and the Association of American Railroads includes wide-ranging, voluntary safety measures, including slowing oil trains from 50 mph to 40 mph through major cities, more frequent track inspections and bolstered emergency response plans along routes for trains hauling up to 3 million gallons of crude each.
It leaves out tens of thousands of tank cars known to split open during derailments. Officials from railroads and the government said they would address that issue separately.
"The voluntary standards agreed to by the DOT and the freight rail industry are a good interim measure while we await federal rulemaking, but they are incomplete without focus on phasing out or retrofitting outdated and deficient" tank cars, Schumer said.
The New York Democrat was also critical of the agreement's focus on major cities for reduced speed, saying that would only apply to New York City and Buffalo in his state. He said the speed should also be reduced in Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Plattsburgh, Poughkeepsie and other large municipalities.
Kevin Thompson, spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration, said the agreement was just one step in ongoing efforts to improve the safety of crude oil shipments by rail, which will include rulemaking on the redesign of the tank cars.
"All communities will see a reduced risk of derailments because of increased track and mechanical inspections and the use of enhanced breaking technology" under the safety agreement, Thompson said.
Federal regulators also issued an emergency order Tuesday requiring more stringent testing of crude before rail shipment to determine how susceptible it is to explosion or fire.
Trains pull hundreds of tankers of highly volatile crude oil from North Dakota cross New York daily in a virtual moving pipeline to East Coast refineries. The Port of Albany has become a major hub for crude oil shipments, with some of the trains continuing south from there along the Hudson River and some offloading their cargo onto ships or barges for the southward journey.
Local officials, residents and environmental groups have called on the state Department of Environmental Conservation to do a full environmental impact study of the oil shipments, which have increased dramatically in the past two years.