Big Rail has talked a big game to the public about its desire for increased safety measures for its trains carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale. What happens behind closed doors, the meeting logs show, tells another story.
At the June 12-13 Railway Age Oil-by-Rail Conference, just two days after rail industry representatives met with OIRA, American Association of Railroads President Edward Hamberg, former assistant secretary for governmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), made the case for safety.
“Railroads believe that federal tank car standards should be raised to ensure crude oil and other flammable liquids are moving in the safest car possible based on the product they are moving,” said Hamberg.
“The industry also wants the existing crude oil fleet upgraded through retrofits or older cars to be phased out as quickly as possible.”
Yet despite public declarations along these lines, proactive safety measures were off the table for all four of Big Rail’s presentations to OIRA.
Though private discussions, the documents made public from the meeting show one consistent message from the rail industry: safety costs big bucks. And these are bucks industry is going to fight against having to spend.
Massive War Room
Those present at the June 10 OIRA meeting included representatives from AAR, the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association, Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), CSX Corporation, Norfolk Southern and the DOT.
Akin to the gargantuan war room in the film “Dr. Strangelove,” 26 people took part in the session.
Invitees included Meredith Kelsch, senior attorney for DOT; Orest Dachniwsky, associate general counsel for BNSF; Robert Schmidt, senior manager of operations and casualty analysis for Union Pacific; and Richard Theroux, who has worked at the Office of Management and Budget — parent of OIRA — for nearly three decades.