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US, Canada release tougher oil-train safety standards

[WASHINGTON] Long-awaited new safety rules for trains carrying oil in the United States and Canada were announced on Friday as regulators seek to reduce risks after a series of explosive accidents accompanied a surge in crude-by-rail shipments in recent years.

Canada's Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt and US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx jointly announced the rules that within three years would phase out older tank cars that are widely considered to be unsafe during derailments.

The rules, which have already created a fierce debate between tank-car owners, railroads and federal regulators, call for thicker tank-car hulls, head shields, electronic pneumatic brakes and pressure-relief valves for oil train cars, all of which have been deemed by regulators to be crucial in improving the safety of transporting oil by rail.

In perhaps the most contentious part of the rules, the entire fleet of DOT-111 cars built before October 2011, and considered prone to puncture during accidents, must be phased out within three years. Cars built after that, known as CPC-1232s, will be phased out within five years.

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The regulations come nearly two years after a train carrying crude oil came off the rails in the Canadian town of Lac Megantic in July 2013, exploding and killing 47 people. Since then, a series of fiery accidents involving crude trains have occurred in rural areas across North America.

"This stronger, safer, more robust tank car will protect communities on both sides of our shared border," said Canada's Ms Raitt.

The rail and energy sectors have both resisted measures that they consider too costly to implement for the small safety improvement they deliver.

Electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes trigger all axles simultaneously rather than one at a time in current design, which safety advocates have said is an important advance.

Large rail operators have lobbied against including an ECP brake mandate in the oil train rules, telling US regulators in March that they "would not have significant safety benefits" and "would be extremely costly." The oil industry is concerned that a demand for a 9/16th-inch steel tanker frame will make the existing tanker car obsolete, since upgrades would be too costly.

Charles Drevna, the president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a leading voice for the refining indistry, said a five-year phase out of existing tank cars - a timetable endorsed by the US National Transportation Safety Board - was unrealistic.