From Barges to “Bombs”: NY DOT considers regulations on oil transport by rail

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Highlands Current: Three weeks after the Coast Guard closed public comment on a proposal to add 10 anchorage sites for oil barges on the Hudson River, including a site between Beacon and Newburgh, the U.S. Department of Transportation is asking for feedback on proposed restrictions on trains that carry oil along its shore.

The comment period was scheduled to open Friday, Dec. 30 and continue through Feb. 28.

New York has pushed for stricter regulation of the oil trains, often derided as “bomb trains” because of their potential explosive power. In neighboring Quebec, a 2013 oil-train accident triggered an explosion and fire, killing 47 people and destroying part of a village.

Working through its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, DOT wants public input as it considers whether to establish limits on the vapor pressure of hazardous fuel shipped by rail. Higher vapor pressures contribute to crude oil’s volatility and flammability.

DOT published its notice in November, nearly a year after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman petitioned the agency to limit vapor pressure to less than 9 pounds per square inch (PSI). The agency’s announcement specifically referred to Schneiderman’s request but asks only for reaction to setting “a range of vapor pressure thresholds,” not just below 9.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, some types of oil, such as the crude from the Bakken Shale formations in North Dakota, have the highest vapor pressures and thus pose a greater threat than other fuels. It noted the Quebec accident involved a train carrying oil with a PSI above 9. Read more.

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