Federal agencies Transportation

Congress approves funding for oil tank rail car safety

train tracks

Photo: iStock/Thinkstock

 UPDATE: This article was updated on Dec. 17 to indicate when President Barack Obama signed the budget bill. 

Washington – Congress has assigned the Department of Transportation a tight deadline to issue new oil tank car design standards.

A final rule from DOT will be due by Jan. 15, according to language included in a $1.1 trillion spending bill approved by Congress on Dec. 13. President Barack Obama signed the spending bill Dec. 16, making the deadline official.

Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) led the bipartisan effort to improve safety for oil trains. Measures in the funding bill include:

  • Requiring comprehensive oil spill response plans for rail carriers
  • Funding a Short Line Railroad Safety Institute 
  • Providing $10 million in grants to improve safety at grade crossings that involve crude oil or other hazardous flammable liquids
  • Providing $3 million to increase automated track inspections on crude oil routes
  • Adding 15 hazardous materials and rail safety inspectors

Several recent disasters have highlighted the need for oil-by-rail safety. In 2013, 47 people were killed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, after a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded.