Obama Administration Proposal Allows Dangerous Oil Trains to Keep Rolling

Proposal would allow dangerous, outdated freight cars to keep going through communities


Liz Judge, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2007

In response to the explosion in the number of derailments of oil-carrying tank cars in the past two years, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today proposed upgraded safety standards for tank cars, but it would allow old tank cars, which are prone to puncture upon impact, spilling oil, and sparking devastating fires and explosions, to continue carrying explosive Bakken crude for years. The proposal would phase out the use of these hazardous DOT-111 tank cars for shipping highly flammable fuels, but not until 2017–2020 depending on the fuel and only for trains with 20 or more cars filled with the fuels.

The proposed rule projects that there will be as many as 15 derailments of these cars each year of the partial phase out, and that there may be an additional 10 devastating accidents, nine of which would cost more than $1 billion in damages, and one of which would cause more than $5 billion in damages.

Earthjustice, on behalf of ForestEthics and the Sierra Club, filed a petition last week calling for an emergency ban of these dangerous and outdated rail cars to get them off the tracks.

The following is a statement from Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman:

“The Department of Transportation projections show extreme, unacceptable risk posed by an outdated and accident-prone type of rail car, the DOT-111. The Department’s proposal delays reducing this risk by keeping these outdated, accident prone cars on the rails for at least 3–6 more years.

“It is estimated that 25 million Americans live in the dangerous blast zone along the nation’s rail lines. Last year alone, there were more accidents than in the total from the 37 years previous. We clearly can’t afford to accept this delay.

“An immediate ban on shipping volatile crude in the DOT-111 tank cars is in order. That’s why we and our partners have called for an emergency ban of this type of outdated, accident-prone rail car.

“The public demands that the federal government crack down on automakers where there is a serious safety risk. We should do the same for the oil industry.”



  • The legal petition
  • 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 our legal petition
  • Quote sheet: A compendium of public officials’ on-record statements about rail safety and oil
A plume of smoke and fire from one of crude oil tank car explosion in Casselton, ND on December 30, 2013.
A plume of smoke and fire from one of crude oil tank car explosion in Casselton, ND on December 30, 2013. (Dawn Faught via National Transportation Safety Board)

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