INFLUENCE GAME: Shaping Railroad Safety Rules

The ethanol industry, including agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland, has told regulators that if tank car standards must be strengthened, the new requirements should apply only to crude oil, Dinneen said. He blamed poor communication by railroads for the Cherry Valley accident.

The chemical industry, which ships both flammable and nonflammable liquids in tank cars, has told regulators that if they propose a new tank car standard, it should be phased in, starting with oil shipments. Deadlines for chemical shipments would come later. The industry also questions whether the safety benefits justify the cost of upgrading existing tank cars to meet new standards.

Rather than new rules for tank cars, the oil and ethanol industries want regulators to turn their attention to whether railroads should do more to prevent accidents. "Keep these cars on the tracks and nobody has a problem," Dinneen said.

The government may try to do just that.

Edward Hamberger, head of the Association of American Railroads, said he is dismayed that regulators are considering lowering oil train speeds to 30 mph. Railroads already have voluntarily lowered speeds from 50 mph to 40 mph in urban areas, he said.

Lowering the speed of oil trains, some of which are 100 cars long, would slow overall freight traffic by about 10 percent and reduce the capacity of the nation's freight network by the same amount, Hamberger said. That's because 83 percent of the network is single track, with passing tracks located from 5 miles to 50 miles apart. Virtually every industry that ships freight by rail would be affected, he said, along with Amtrak, which widely uses freight tracks.

Burlington Northern-Santa Fe estimated that reducing speeds to 30 mph on just one portion of its network — its Aurora, Illinois, to Spokane, Washington, line — would cost the company $800 million.

Shippers that use a combination of trains and trucks to move products may switch to trucks, Hamberger said, putting more of those on the road.

Railroads also worry that regulators will require trains to have electronically controlled brakes that would cost the industry $12 billion to $21 billion, according to a CSX estimate.


Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at—Joan—Lowy



Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration:

Association of American Railroads:

Renewable Fuels Association:

American Petroleum Institute

EDITOR'S NOTE _ An occasional look at how behind-the-scenes influence is exercised in Washington.

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