Oregon Representatives Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Communities, Establish Emergency Response Account for Rail Accidents
Washington, D.C. – Today, members of Oregon’s Congressional Delegation introduced the bipartisan Community Protection and Preparedness Act (H.R. 5786), legislation that creates a new trust fund to help communities prepare for accidents involving rail cars transporting flammable liquids, including crude oil and ethanol. The legislation was sponsored by Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and co-sponsored by Representatives Greg Walden (R-OR) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
The Community Protection and Preparedness Act would allow the fund to be used for emergency response and clean up after rail accidents involving flammable liquids. The fund would also be used to issue grants to help prepare and protect communities along rail lines. The legislation would require railroads to inspect certain tracks in high consequence areas, such as near waterways, for defects on foot. A high consequence area is defined as a high population area, a concentrated population area, an unusually sensitive area, including drinking water or ecological resource areas that are sensitive to environmental damage, or a commercially navigable waterway. On June 3rd, 16 rail cars from a 96-car Union Pacific crude oil train derailed near Mosier, Oregon on a stretch of defective track that was inspected by employees by vehicle.
In addition, the legislation would also require that railroads periodically use gage restraint measuring systems to measure shifts in the rails and detect weak ties and fasteners. It also authorizes funding for the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to hire additional track safety specialists.
“Every day, thousands of rail tank cars carrying toxic, hazardous materials crisscross the country. The communities along these train routes shouldn’t be on the hook for clean up or damages after an accident and spill occurs. This legislation would help protect and prepare communities by providing funding to help States and Native American tribes develop and carry out emergency response plans, and provide critical training for emergency responders. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation, which will better protect the public and the environment, and help prepare communities both big and small,” said DeFazio.
“Oregon communities—especially ones like Mosier in the Columbia Gorge—deserve the highest level of safety from railways and rail cars. And they certainly shouldn’t be on the hook for damage caused by a train derailment or spill,” said Walden. “This bipartisan plan would boost inspections, help phase out older, unsafe rail cars, and protect lives and property. It continues strong efforts by the Oregon delegation to protect the people who live in communities near railroad tracks, as well as the natural beauty of the place we call home. I’m proud to support it.”
“The derailment in the Columbia Gorge earlier this summer serves as an important reminder about the dangers of how we transport oil and other hazardous materials through our beautiful state. We must do more to ensure safety and transparency. The Community Protection and Preparedness Act will get less safe railcars off the tracks, require more rigorous and thorough track inspections, and make sure that emergency responders are coordinated, funded, and trained to respond to these incidents. This legislation makes sure Oregon is prepared for any outcome,” said Blumenauer.
Creating New Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to Help Communities
The Community Protection and Preparedness Act of 2016, creates a Rail Account in the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, and authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to collect an annual fee of $1,500 for each outdated DOT-111 and CPC-1232 rail tank car that fails to meet the new Department of Transportation (DOT) standards that drastically improve rail tank car safety. The fees are imposed on each person who ships Class 3 flammable liquid, including crude oil and ethanol, in outdated tank cars. The fee would start on October 1, 2017, for the use of tank cars the prior year.
Funds collected will be provided for the payment of removal and remediation costs and other costs, expenses, claims, and damages related to an accident or incident involving the transportation of Class 3 flammable liquids by rail. Funds can also be used by the Secretary to make grants to States and Native American tribes to develop and carry out emergency plans, develop and train regional response teams, and train emergency responders. The legislation allows the Secretary to collaborate with States and Native American tribes in preparing for an accident or incident.
Requiring Railroads to Inspect Track on Foot
The legislation requires Class I railroad carriers to inspect track on foot and periodically use systems to measure shifts in the rail and detect weak ties and fasteners where an accident or incident involving the transportation of flammable liquids or poisonous- or toxic-by-inhalation hazardous materials by rail could affect a high consequence area.
A preliminary FRA investigation of the June 3rd Mosier derailment found that Union Pacific failed to adequately maintain its track and that walking inspections could have found the defective section of rail track and prevented the derailment. They determined the Union Pacific derailment was caused by broken lag bolts leading to wide track gauge. According to the FRA in its report, “Broken and sheared lag bolts, while difficult to detect by high-rail, are more detectable by walking inspection combined with indications of movement in the rail or track structure and/or uneven rail wear, and are critically important to resolve quickly.” The legislation’s requirement to force closer, more thorough inspections, combined with immediate remedial action requirements, will help prevent accidents before they happen.
The bill also authorizes funding for the Administrator of the FRA to hire additional track safety specialists.