US, Canadian governments announce oil train rules

Under new rules, companies will have to disclose even less information to the public.

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The companies that run highly flammable oil in train tankers will have to disclose even less information to the public under new rules recently agreed upon by the United States and Canadian governments.


Currently, the public only knows the routes railroads use to haul oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation, the heart of the crude-by-rail boom. Oil from Canada and Utah has moved around Oregon. We don’t know how often or how much. We know how much Bakken crude moves because of a May 2014 emergency federal order. It allowed the public to learn that the Columbia River Gorge had become one of the country’s major oil train corridors, with 18 loaded trains moving through weekly. We learned that traffic was growing along the Deschutes River, through Bend and Central Oregon.

Friday’s rules end that disclosure. Starting in March 2016, railroads only have to provide contact information for someone who can discuss routing issues with local officials. Oil trains will again move under a veil of secrecy. With proposed projects aiming to bring even more oil by rail through the Columbia Gorge, the public will only be able to guess at how much oil moves along the river and other sensitive areas in Oregon and Washington.

In a joint statement, Oregon’s U.S. Senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, said: “It is disappointing the department has not expanded the amount of public information about oil train routes, despite numerous calls to do so. First responders need more information about dangerous materials moving through their communities, and we will continue to push to meet that need.”

Portland Business Journal provides more coverage of the expanded rules:

The rules include enhanced tank car standards, mandatory retrofits to older tank cars, new braking standards that could reduce the severity of accidents reduced operating speeds, new rules around rail routing and more information sharing with local jurisdictions.  The Greenbrier Companies Inc. (NYSE: GBX) applauded the new rules. The Lake Oswego-based rail car manufacturer stands to benefit from orders for cars that comply with the new standards as well as retrofits.

“We commend both governments for delivering a rule today that advances public safety and and protection of the natural environment. The health, property and general well-being of our citizens shouldn’t be at risk in the event of an accident and the design for the newly designated DOT-117/TC-117 rail car will help substantially mitigate risk,” William Furman, Greenbrier’s chairman and CEO, said in a prepared statement.

Environmental groups expressed that they were dismayed by the new rules.


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