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Fiery wrecks of trains hauling crude oil have intensified pressure on the Obama administration to approve tougher standards for railroads and tank cars despite industry complaints that it could cost billions and slow freight deliveries.
On Feb. 5, the Transportation Department sent the White House draft rules that would require oil trains to use stronger tank cars and make other safety improvements.
Nine days later a 100-car train hauling crude oil and petroleum distillates derailed and caught fire in a remote part of Ontario, Canada. Less than 48 hours later, a 109-car oil train derailed and caught fire in West Virginia, leaking oil into a Kanawha River tributary and burning a house to its foundation. As the fire spread across 19 of the cars, a nearby resident said the explosions sounded like an “atomic bomb.” Both fires burned for nearly a week.
The two accidents follow a spate of other fiery oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada over the past few years. The most serious killed 47 people and destroyed the town center of Lac Megantic in Quebec, Canada, just across the border from Maine, in 2013.
The government hasn’t yet unveiled its proposed regulations. But among them are a stronger tank car design that includes thicker tank walls and electronically-controlled brakes that stop rail cars at the same time rather than sequentially, said Brigham McCown, a Washington-based consultant who was head of the federal agency responsible for safe transportation of hazardous materials during President George W. Bush’s administration.