APNewsBreak: Railroads agree to voluntary measures to make crude shipments safer

The Associated Press

FILE - In this Dec. 30, 2013 file photo, a fireball goes up at the site of an oil train derailment in Casselton, N.D. Railroads that haul volatile crude shipments have reached an agreement with U.S. transportation officials to adopt wide-ranging voluntary safety measures after a string of explosive and deadly accidents. A copy of the agreement between the U.S. Transportation Department and the Association of American Railroads obtained Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 by The Associated Press calls for railroads to slow down oil trains through major cities, increase track inspections and bolster emergency response planning along routes that see trains that can haul up to three million gallons of oil each. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy, File)

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Transportation officials also have been working with the oil industry to make sure crude loaded onto trains is properly classified, so that responders know what they're dealing with when an accident or spill occurs.

Companies are required to determine the volatility of oil being shipped, but there are no mandated testing protocols, according to transportation officials.

The North Dakota oil involved in July's Lac-Megantic accident had been misclassified as posing a minor danger.

Earlier this month, government investigators announced that 11 of 18 samples of oil being taken to rail loading stations in the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana were misclassified. Hess Corp., Whiting Oil and Gas Corp., and Marathon Oil Co. face proposed fines of $93,000 for the alleged violations.

Since 2008, the number of tanker cars hauling oil has increased 40-fold, and federal records show that's been accompanied by a dramatic spike in accidental crude releases from tank cars.

While severity of recent accidents and their potential for even more serious consequences has raised safety concerns, transportation officials point out that over the past decade, derailments have decreased by 47 percent.

Hamberger of the railroad association said the commitments unveiled Friday underscore the high priority the industry has put on safely transporting crude. He suggested that compliance would not be a problem.

"Number one it's better for safety, and number two their reputation is on the line," he said.

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Lowy reported from Washington, D.C.

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