Gov. Kitzhaber writes letter on oil-train safety

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is calling on the federal government to move faster to make trains transporting crude oil throughout the state safer in the wake of the Virginia oil train crash.

In a letter sent Friday to federal Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Kitzhaber said he’s frustrated the federal government is taking too long to update tank-car standards and institute other safety measures. The governor said he has “deep concern about the safety of oil transported by rail.”

The North Dakota oil boom has led to more oil-by-rail shipments throughout the nation and a higher number of oil-train accidents. There have been eight significant accidents involving oil trains in the past year in the U.S. and Canada.

The amount of oil shipped by trains in Oregon increased by 250 percent in 2013, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Earlier this year, Kitzhaber ordered a top-to-bottom review of state rail safety and oil-spill responsiveness. The state is planning hazardous-materials training for first responders this month. It’s also developing a report about its resources and needs in the event of an oil-train accident.

In the letter obtained by The Oregonian, Kitzhaber also said he pushed the operator of Oregon’s sole oil-train terminal near Clatskanie to require safer tank cars. The company, Global Partners, announced this week that starting in June it would only allow safer cars at its facility.

But the governor said he is limited because he doesn’t have the authority to mandate safety standards for the transportation of hazardous materials via rail lines — that’s the job of the federal government.

“States should not have to negotiate one-off voluntary agreements with shippers and facility owners in order to achieve the highest level of safety possible on rail lines,” Kitzhaber wrote.

A federal safety board has long recommended that the federal government mandate a tougher design for rail tank cars that transport crude oil because the cars are too easily punctured or ruptured.

The federal Department of Transportation this week said it sent new standards on oil-train safety to the White House for review. The Canadian government announced stricter tank-car standards last week.

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