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Administration Failing to Protect Public From Dangerous Crude Oil Trains

Groups file lawsuit against Department of Transportation for inadequate action on oil train risks
The crude-by-rail explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Canada in 2013.

The crude-by-rail explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, killed 47 people in 2013.

Photo courtesy of Sûreté du Québec
September 11, 2014
Washington, D.C. —

Sierra Club, ForestEthics, and Earthjustice have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation today for failing to respond to a legal petition filed on July 15, 2014 calling for an emergency order prohibiting the use of hazardous rail cars—known as DOT-111s—for shipping flammable Bakken crude oil. The Department of Transportation was required by law to respond to this petition. The groups have received no response.

The National Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly found that the DOT-111 tank cars are prone to puncture on impact, spilling oil and often triggering destructive fires and explosions. The Safety Board has made official recommendations to stop shipping crude oil in these hazardous tank cars.

The Department of Transportation agrees that DOT-111 tank cars need to be banned for shipping crude oil, but on July 25, the Department of Transportation introduced a proposal that gives these puncture-prone tankers three to six more years to roll through communities across the country and risk lives along the paths of these rail lines nationwide. Meanwhile, the department estimates there will 15 rail accidents next year and each year DOT-111s are still in crude transport service, and possibly disasters on the scale of Lac-Mégantic or larger. 

The following are statements from the groups filing the lawsuit:

Said Patti Goldman, Earthjustice attorney:
“The Department of Transportation agrees these tank cars create an unacceptable public risk and need to be banned for shipping Bakken crude oil. But the department proposes to expose the public to these unacceptable risks for four more years.  We can’t run the risk of another disaster like Lac-Mégantic, Quebec when 47 people died in a DOT-111 crude oil explosion.”

Said Matt Krogh, ForestEthics campaign director:
“Twenty-five million Americans live in the blast zone along the nation's rail lines. These oil tank cars have been called tin cans on wheels and the Pinto of the rails—we can’t wait years to protect our families and our drinking water, we need the Obama Administration to act right now.”



  • The mandamus petition, filed on September 11, 2014
  • The legal petition, filed on July 15, 2014
  • Press release from filing of petition on July 15, 2014
  • Maps of the nation’s oil rail lines:
    • Crude-by-Rail Across the United States: Railroad shipments of volatile crude oil into America's cities have dramatically increased, with explosive results. Find out where major crude-by-rail accidents have occurred—and the communities that are fighting back.
    • Oil Train Blast Zone: When oil trains derail we all pay the price. How close are you and your family to a disaster waiting to happen? Use ForestEthics' Blast Zone map to find out and take action.
  • Fact sheet of Q&As about today’s legal petition
  • Quote sheet: A compendium of public officials’ on-record statements about rail safety and oil


Patti Goldman, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1032

Jan Hasselman, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1025

Eddie Scher, ForestEthics, (415) 863-4563, ext. 314

Ben Stuckart, Spokane, WA City Council President, (509) 710-9611

Charlene Benton, Ezra Prentice Homes Tenants Association, Albany, NY, (518) 472-0201