U.S. sets new final rule on oil, ethanol trains

An aerial view of burnt train cars after a train derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec July 8, 2013, in this picture provided by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. REUTERS/Transportation Safety Board of Canada/Handout via Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Wednesday released a new regulation intended to prevent explosive rail disasters such as the 2013 oil train derailment that killed 47 people and destroyed part of Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

The new rule by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requires two qualified railroad employees to ensure that handbrakes and other safety equipment have been properly set on trains left unattended while carrying dangerous materials such as crude oil or ethanol.

A series of oil train accidents in recent years led the United States and Canada in May to announce sweeping new safety regulations that require more secure tank cars and advanced braking technology to prevent moving trains from derailing and spilling their contents.

The new rule is directed specifically at trains left parked on main lines, side tracks and in rail yards.

On July 6, 2013, an unattended 74-car freight train carrying crude oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota rolled downhill and derailed in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic. The FRA said a leading cause was that the train had not been properly secured.

“Requiring that an additional, trained individual double check that the handbrakes have been set on a train will help stop preventable accidents,” acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg said in a statement.

The new rule also contains requirements that involve briefings for train crews, exterior locks on locomotives and the proper use of air brakes. It applies to trains carrying substances that can cause harm if inhaled and any train carrying 20 or more cars of “high-hazard flammable materials.”

Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Dan Grebler