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US railroads on Friday announced several voluntary steps they will take to boost crude-by-rail safety, including lower speed limits in urban areas and the use of rail traffic routing technology, under an agreement reached with the Department of Transportation.

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The Association of American Railroads said that beginning July 1 trains with 20 or more tank cars carrying crude that include at least one older DOT-111 car will travel no faster than 40 mph in 46 federally designated high-threat urban areas.

The industry currently voluntarily restricts speeds of trains with 20 or more carloads of hazardous materials, including crude oil, to 50 mph.

Railroads will also begin using the Rail Corridor Risk Management System to determine the safest routes for trains with 20 or more cars of crude. RCRMS, developed with the US Homeland Security Department and other federal agencies, is currently used for the routing of security-sensitive materials.

"Safety is a shared responsibility among all energy supply chain stakeholders," AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger said. "We will continue to work with our safety partners -- including regulators, our employees, our customers and the communities through which we operate -- to find even more ways to reinforce public confidence in the rail industry's ability to safely meet the increased demand to move crude oil."

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in January asked the AAR, the American Petroleum Institute and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association to report by Friday their recommendations on how to improve crude-by-rail safety, including rail speed restrictions, inspection regimens, best practices on classifying shipments and more robust emergency response capabilities.

The request came amid a spate of recent accidents involving crude shipments, most notably July's derailment of a train carrying Bakken crude in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, which caused a massive explosion and 47 deaths.

In a statement, Foxx said he appreciates the rail industry's efforts.

"Today's changes will enhance safety while we continue to pursue our comprehensive approach focused on prevention, mitigation and emergency response through collaboration with our partners," he said.

Among the other measures the rail industry agreed to are additional track inspections, including at least two high-tech track geometry inspections each year on mainline routes, which are not required by federal regulations.

And railroads will equip trains with 20 or more carloads of crude with distributed power or two-way telemetry end-of-train devices that will allow crews to apply emergency brakes from both ends of the train, for faster stopping.

The API announced Thursday its voluntary efforts to comply with Foxx's "call to action."

The US oil industry is developing a "comprehensive standard" for ensuring that crude oil is packaged and moved safely on railroads and working with the tank car manufacturers on design improvements to boost safety, the API said.

In addition, the industry is sharing information with DOT's Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Administration on crude oil characteristics and enhancing emergency response training through a voluntary national outreach effort, known as Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response, which assists communities in preparing for and responding to accidents.

Meanwhile, the DOT's Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is considering new safety regulations on crude-by-rail shipments, including whether to require phasing out or retrofitting older tank cars that do not have the latest safety technologies installed. The agency is due to propose its rule by November.

Foxx, in a letter to AAR, said those efforts will build on the voluntary measures that the API and AAR agreed to.

"DOT continues to evaluate all aspects of crude oil transportation," Foxx wrote. "As we work to gather and evaluate data expeditiously, we will continue to be guided by our safety imperative and will engage all stakeholders as additional measures are proposed."

--Herman Wang,
--Edited by Jason Lindquist,