Durbin talks with Weisner, Schielke about rail tank car concerns

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin met Wednesday with local mayors including Aurora’s Tom Weisner and Batavia’s Jeff Schielke and federal rail and transportation officials to discuss stricter rules for rail-tank cars carrying crude oil through the area.

One-fourth of all U.S. freight traffic rolls through the Chicago area daily, and about 40 trains carrying crude oil pass through each week, Durbin said at a news conference at DePaul University’s Loop campus.

The increased traffic comes mostly from northwestern states that are producing oil from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The issue prompted international attention in July 2013 when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and wiping out dozens of buildings.

Weisner said the magnitude of the damage in the small Quebec town, including $2 billion in damage, makes it “truly a little bit scary” to contemplate.

“We’re trying to represent everyday people who just want to be safe and be assured of their quality of life,” Weisner said of the effort to prod the federal government to ensure safer rails, a higher standard of new tank cars and the retirement of old, unsafe cars.

Karen Darch, village president of Barrington, said the village has recently seen a “marked increase” in the numbers of “unit” trains — completely full trains with 100 tank-car loads of ethanol or crude oil — rolling through.

Nationwide, the traffic has soared to more than 600,000 tank-car loads of crude oil transported by rail per year; that’s up from 10,000 tank-car loads in 2008, Darch said.

A proposed federal rule by the U.S. Department of Transportation would, among other measures: reroute oil trains around high-threat areas; require railroads to notify local emergency response agencies with the number and routes of oil trains; require that tank cars be upgraded with new “jackets” and strengthened tops and bottoms. The rule calls for all crude oil and hazardous material to be transported in the upgraded cars as of October 2017, but Durbin and the officials who met in Chicago on Wednesday urged a speedier transition to the newer tank cars.

Darch said the concern is that the tank cars typically have been kept in service for about 40 years, and some of the deficient ones now are only 10 years old.

“We don’t want to see those kept around for another 30 years hauling hazardous material,” she said

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