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DOT starts requiring rail companies to disclose oil shipment info

Maureen McCollum, Wisconsin Public Radio

Citing an increase in crude oil shipments and a rise in the number of rail accidents over the last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation is now requiring railway companies to disclose more information about its oil shipments.

If a train is carrying at least 1 million gallons, or about 35 tank cars, of Bakken crude oil, the railway company has to notify a state’s emergency management commission. Companies have to tell the state how much oil it’s moving and the train’s route.

A Wisconsin Emergency Management spokeswoman says attorneys and staff are sorting through the details to figure out how the system will work in the state.

Wisconsin Railroad Commissioner Jeff Plale says the order is a reasonable step towards making rails safer.

“I mean, god forbid anything were to ever happen, but at least having that knowledge is something that’s helpful,” said Plale. “It’s kind of based on the premise, ‘To be forewarned is to be forearmed.’”

The U.S. DOT and other agencies are also strongly urging companies to use more reliable tank cars.

La Crosse County Board Supervisor Maureen Freedland is a member of Citizens Acting for Rail Safety. She says the industry needs to step it up and phase out the older tank cars, which some consider to be dangerous.

“Meanwhile, communities like ours are at risk,” said Freedland. “We don’t know what’s coming through. We don’t have control of what’s coming through. We’re advised that they’ll help us take care of spills and problems, but we’re still feeling very vulnerable to explosions.”

A BNSF Railway spokeswoman says it’d also like to see older tank cars phased out. She also says the new federal requirement to contact states will not affect the company’s service.