Regulators Propose New Rule for Railroads That Carry Oil

Oil Rail Cars

A recent proposal from federal regulators would see the creation of rules that would require “sturdier cars to carry oil, lower speed limits on some shipments and testing of the volatility of the crude transported by train.” This proposal is a response to the fact that today nearly 20% of all of the oil pumped in the United States is transported by railway. Railroads have found a new booming business in transporting crude oil througmellishout the country. According to the Wall Street Journal “[m]ajor railroads’ revenue for hauling crude has jumped from $25.8 million to $2.15 billion in 2013…” With the rapid growth of this sector comes rising concerns about ensuring proper safety regulations are in place to match the expanding infrastructure.

The proposal for these rules stems from a need to prevent accidents that can cause extreme damage. For example, the Lac-Mégantic derailment in Quebec, Canada in July of 2013 was the deadliest rail accident in Canada since 1864. The train was carrying crude oil when it derailed and exploded in the town’s center, causing 42 fatalities and the destruction of 30 buildings.

Traditionally oil has been transported through pipelines, but with major projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline coming under fierce scrutiny in the past years there has been a shift to the rails. The cost of building a new rail terminal versus something like the Keystone XL pipeline is staggering, “A big loading terminal might cost about $50 million – equal to the estimated cost of building just one mile of the keystone pipeline.”

Railroads can help prevent accidents by ensuring all workers are healthy and fit-for-duty. A fit-for-duty exam can be the difference between the right hire, and one who may become injured. The exam will ensure that a new hire can perform the required tasks effectively, and using the proper technique. These tests are designed to put potential hires through scenarios that will effectively simulate the conditions of the position. Continual surveillance of workers and their health is also crucial. Having a record of all of an employee’s exams and tests in a central location, that are medically reviewed, will go a long way in keeping worker’s healthy and catching problems before they happen. These preventive measures are not just important for railroads that are transporting crude oil, but for all railroads, and even all industries outside of the rails. Despite all precautions and best efforts, accidents and critical incidents will still occur.

When a critical incident occurs on a railroad those who respond and/or witness the incident will need help dealing with what happened. The FRA calls this Psychological First Aid and defines it as “a recommended non-clinical technique that railroads and trained lay people can utilize to provide directly-involved employees ‘situational knowledge’ that would help these employees gain ready access to counseling, guidance and other required support services…” Partnering with an organization that specializes in helping people through these difficult times will ensure employees are properly cared for and can return to work when they are in the proper mindset. 

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