The U.S. Department of Transportation will unveil its long-awaited regulations on oil trains Friday, almost two years after 47 people were killed in a fiery derailment in Quebec.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will announce the new rules with his Canadian counterpart, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, in Washington Friday morning.
The regulations are expected to include a more robust construction standard for the DOT-111 tank car, a workhorse designed more than 50 years ago that’s carried the tremendous growth of crude oil and ethanol production in North America over the past decade.
But with that increase in volume have come serious accidents. Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of a derailment and fire in downtown Lynchburg, Va.
There have been four fiery oil train derailments since the beginning of the year, in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario. Two more occurred in Alabama and North Dakota in 2013. Other than the July 2013 disaster in Quebec, none resulted in fatalities or serious injuries.
On their own, railroads have invested in track improvements and have funded training for emergency responders. But the rail industry and its customers have been waiting on the federal government to decide on new standards for tank cars carrying flammable liquids.
The National Transportation Safety Board has called for those improvements for more than two decades, and the industry petitioned the Transportation Department for a new standard four years ago.
The new regulations are expected to require full-height head shields for the ends of the cars, a thermal protection system around the tank shell and larger pressure-relief devices.
All are aimed at first preventing a puncture that could allow flammable liquids to escape, then preventing other cars from overheating and exploding from prolonged fire exposure.
Tank cars built to a voluntary industry standard since 2011 have shown similar vulnerabilities in recent derailments, including those in Lynchburg last year and Mount Carbon, W.Va., Galena, Ill., and Gogama, Ontario, this year.
Older DOT-111 cars and the newer CPC-1232 models would be retrofitted with the new safeguards under the new regulations. The NTSB has recommended a five-year timeline for completing the work, while industry groups have pushed to have 10 years to finish it.