| NEW YORK
NEW YORK May 1 New U.S. and Canadian speed
limits for oil trains will do little to temper the likelihood
and severity of explosive accidents that have grown in frequency
over the past two years, critics of new regulations said on
Walking a line between increasing safety and keeping oil
shipments moving at a clip on North American rails, regulators
announced a 50 mile per hour (mph) speed limit for oil trains, a
key component of new rules rolled out on Friday. But speed was
not identified as a key factor in recent crashes, and slowing
trains further may congest an already beleaguered rail system,
The speed provisions alone are expected to have little
impact on oil train accidents, four of which have already
occurred this year. Of the nine major oil train accidents in the
United States and Canada since 2013, none of the trains were
traveling above 50 mph, according to government records and data
compiled by Reuters.
The average speed of these last accidents was 34 mph. Four
of the nine occurred at or above 40 mph. Of the rest, all but
one occurred when the train was traveling above 20 mph.
Under the new regulations, the speed limit for trains
hauling older tank cars in urban areas would fall to 40 mph. The
limits were part of a set of preliminary proposals put forward
"Even with these rules in place, the accidents earlier this
year would not have been prevented," said Jared Margolis, an
attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity in Portland,
Oregon, which has called for a moratorium on oil trains until
more stringent tank car standards are in place.
Friday's rules called for the phase-in of tougher tank car
standards including thicker hulls, head shields to protect the
end of each car and electronic pneumatic brakes.
Although speed was not necessarily a factor in recent
accidents, experts say that tank cars are more prone to puncture
as train speeds exceed 10 mph. Data show that the faster a crude
oil train travels, the more likely it is for cars to puncture on
In New Augusta, Mississippi, in January last year, an oil
train traveling at 45 mph came off the rails and 25 tank cars
spilled oil. In Lynchburg, Virginia, a train came off the rails
in April 2014 going about half as fast and only two cars
ruptured, catching fire.
While the railroads have immediately voiced opposition to
adopting the new braking systems that they say are expensive and
potentially unreliable, the speed restrictions appear to be less
contentious. Indeed, some railroads have already reduced speed
limits for oil trains in urban centers to 35 mph.
Others say it will not make a difference to accidents, but
reducing speeds below the new rules could hurt the rail
"If you reduced speeds down to 30 mph, you would not have a
corresponding drop in accidents," said Anthony Hatch, owner of
New York-based transportation consultancy ABH Consulting. "But
it would severely crimp the capacity of a vitally important part
of the economy."
(Reporting by Edward McAllister; editing by Jessica
Resnick-Ault and Andrew Hay)