The U.S. Transportation Department issued an emergency order Wednesday requiring that railroads inform state emergency management officials before moving large shipments of crude oil through their states, and urged railroads not to use older model tanks cars that are easily ruptured in accidents, even at slow speeds.
The emergency order requires that each railroad operating trains containing more than 3.5 million litres of crude oil — about 35 tank cars — from the booming Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and part of Canada provide information on their movement to states they traverse.
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Much of the oil from the region is being shipped in trains of 100 cars or more that accident investigators have described as "moving pipelines." The trains move through small towns and big cities alike across the country.
"All options are on the table when it comes to improving the safe transportation of crude oil, and today's actions, the latest in a series that make up an expansive strategy, will ensure that communities are more informed and that companies are using the strongest possible tank cars," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
The emergency order follows a warning two weeks ago from outgoing National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman that the department risks a "higher body count" as the result of fiery oil train accidents if it waits for new safety regulations to become final.
Last week several tanker cars derailed and caught fire in downtown Lynchburg, Va.
In the deadliest accident, 47 people were killed in Lac-Mégantic, Que. last July when a train derailed in the downtown core and blew up.