Oil train regulation passes in California

SANFRANCISO Sat Aug 30, 2014 12:31am EDT

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SANFRANCISO (Reuters) - California lawmakers on Friday passed legislation requiring railroad companies to tell emergency officials when crude oil trains will chug through the state.

The bill would require railroads to notify the state's Office of Emergency Services when trains carrying crude oil from Canada and North Dakota are headed to refineries in the most populous U.S. state.

It passed its final vote in the Assembly 61-1, with strong bipartisan support in the state legislature in Sacramento. The bill now goes to Democratic Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.

“We have a spotlight on this issue because of the seriousness of the risk to public safety that it presents,” said the bill's author, Democratic Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, whose district encompasses parts of Sacramento along the trains’ route.

The legislation follows a disastrous oil train derailment in Canada that killed 47 people and spilled 1.6 million gallons of crude last year.

Worried that a similar spill could happen in California, firefighters and other safety officials have urged state lawmakers to increase safety regulations on oil trains and improve communication between railroads and first responders about when oil shipments are coming through.

President Barack Obama proposed new safety requirements last month that could lower speed limits for trains carrying oil and increase safety standards for oil tank cars.

The volume of oil shipped by train through California has increased dramatically in recent years, public safety experts told a legislative committee at a hearing in June.

The influx has been propelled by increased production in Western Canada and North Dakota without an accompanying boost in pipeline capacity.

Oil and rail industry representatives told lawmakers that they had already done much to improve safety. BNSF Railway lobbyist Juan Acosta testified that the company had agreed to slow its oil trains to 40 mph and increase inspections of its tracks.

Railroads are not currently required to proactively share their oil train schedules with first responders.

(additional reporting by Aaron Mendelson in Sacramento; Editing by Sharon Bernstein)

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