oil-train-railOLYMPIA, Wash. – State regulators took an important step in updating rail safety rules to address the increase in crude oil being transported by train across the state. The Utilities and Transportation Commission adopted new rules to:

• Set minimum safety requirements and conduct inspections of private crossings located on oil train routes; • Authorize first-class cities, which are exempt, to opt into the UTC crossing inspection program; and • Require railroads that haul crude oil to provide financial verification that they have the means to address a reasonable worst case spill of oil.

In 2015, Gov. Inslee proposed legislation and ultimately signed into law ESHB 1449 that funds additional federally certified rail inspectors; increases regulatory fees for railroads that haul crude oil; and allows state inspectors to enter private shippers’ property without a federal escort. The new rules are the result of that legislation. “Today the UTC takes steps towards ensuring our railways are as safe as possible, but there is still work to do to safeguard the people and environment of Washington,” said Inslee. “The improvements made today to our state’s rail safety program show that we are serious about rail safety and will take what action we can on a state level to address the dangers posed by oil trains.” Congress last year delayed requirements that railroads install anti-collision safety technology, known as “positive train control,” and allowed the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to extend timelines for phasing out older oil tank cars that carry the more volatile crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to west coast refineries. The Federal Railroad Administration has primary jurisdiction over the transportation of oil-by-rail. The UTC supports the FRA’s efforts by performing rail inspections and issuing notices and violations for non-compliance with federal railroad safety regulations on behalf of the FRA. The UTC also maintains jurisdiction over rail crossing safety. A 2015 study conducted by the Dept. of Ecology and the UTC delivered recommendations to Gov. Inslee and the Legislature to address risks to public health and safety associated with oil transportation. The commission’s rail safety recommendations were incorporated into Governor Inslee’s legislation (ESHB 1449). The commission crafted the new rules with the help of industry and environmental stakeholders along with public feedback. The new rules are effective March 11. The UTC regulates railroad safety, including approving new grade crossings and closing or altering existing rail crossings, investigating train accidents, inspecting railroad crossings, approving safety projects and managing rail safety education through Operation Lifesaver.

By DOT Assistant Secretary Greg Winfree

DOT_Logo_150pxIt’s no secret that freight rail and rail transit services are growing. With transit ridership breaking records year after year and expanded domestic fuel production putting more energy freight on the network, the rail industry in North America just continues to grow. This growing demand for rail services is exactly why the new Research and Innovation Laboratory (RAIL) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Rail Tech and Engineering Center (RailTEC) is so important.

Last month, I had the pleasure of touring the new lab and helping celebrate its official opening.  There’s no question that this world-class facility –funded by DOT’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, the Federal Railroad Administration, railroads, and rail industry suppliers– underscores RailTEC’s status as a national leader for rail transportation research and innovation.

DOT’s University Transportation Centers (UTC) program supports critical transportation research at competitively selected colleges and universities like Illinois around the country. As the lead UTC for rail research, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign works with rail industry leaders and state organizations to ensure that the research and curriculum continue to be relevant and timely.

The Research and Innovation Laboratory makes another powerful argument for why every dollar spent on priority transportation research ultimately pays huge dividends.  Cutting edge technologies like the Track Loading System and Rapid Component Degradation System housed in RAIL give researchers state of the art tools for developing safer and more resilient track designs while informing industry standards and best practices.

As impressed as I was by the technologies housed in the RAIL facility, I was even more impressed by the people I met along the way. The students and faculty of RailTEC bring innovative ideas and a tireless commitment to making rail transportation an even stronger force for enduring economic prosperity—and a more environmentally sustainable transportation network for freight and people.

 Rail is one of the fundamental reasons why the United States became a global economic power in the 19th and 20th centuries. Rail transportation remains critical to American industry; countless businesses depend on our nation’s 140,000-mile freight rail network to keep their supply chains moving safely and efficiently. So, ensuring the safety and vitality of our rail network is essential to remaining competitive in the global economy of the 21st Century.

The University of Illinois’s Rail and Innovation Laboratory is exactly what this country needs to prepare for the future.