Dave Mistich Published

Former NTSB Official: ‘Everybody’s Got To Do Better’ With Crude-By-Rail Transport


After Monday’s CSX train derailment in Fayette County, attention has turned to a national discussion regarding the safety of crude-by-rail transportation.

Peter Goelz is a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board. His responsibilities at the NTSB included leading the day-to-day operations of the agency and serving as chief policy advisor to the chairman. He is now senior vice president of O’Nell and Associates, a firm offering government relations and communications services related to a variety of industries, including transportation.

You can stream audio of an interview with Goelz  or read highlights below:

On Train Derailments and Crude-By-Rail

“There are two things that you have to remember. One is that the railroads have no choice in what cargo they have to carry. By the rules of common carriage, they have to take what’s offered and they’ve got to move it. While there’s been an increase in the number of tank cars that are moving by rail, it’s still a fairly small number—I think, less than two percent of the total rail cars moving.  Having said that, accidents like this are disturbing and everybody’s got to do better.”

On Bakken Crude Oil

“There is an issue that’s being examined on whether the Bakken oil has some sort of increased flammability to it and whether it needs to be pretreated or not before it goes into the tank cars for movement. Some oil in west Texas is pretreated because of flammability issues. There have been a couple of studies that have indicated there is some increase in flammability. But, as far as I know PHMSA has not issued a ruling on it. There’s been no definitive decision that this stuff is more flammable and should be pretreated before going into tank cars.”


Credit Office of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin

On The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rules for Crude-By Rail Tankers

“The issue of tanker cars has been debated for years. And the reality is that one of the issues has been cost-benefit analysis, which is now a part of every rulemaking that the government puts in. People are opposed to government intrusion into business. So, that cost-benefit analysis has to be done. The railroad industry, in 2011, asked PHMSA to increase the tank car standards. They believe the standards now—even on the 1232’s, the new cars—that these need to be updated and could be stronger. The railroad, as I said, has to take this stuff. They don’t like these accidents any more than the people in the localities like them and they want the rail cars to be stronger.”

On Progress of Tanker Car Safety Improvements

“I think the 1232’s are an improvement over the older cars. But, the reality of it is this: There may be 80,000 of the older tank cars out there and another 30,000 of the new cars. The increase in domestic oil production over the past four or five years has led to a couple things. One is the price of gas has dropped dramatically. The second is the United States is no longer dependent on Middle East oil. Those are two good things. The issue is, can we do better on transporting oil by rail? Or, can we do better transporting it by pipeline? And the answer is yes. Transporting oil by rail, 99.995 percent of all tank cars reach their destination safely. Now, that seems probably like a hollow figure to the folks who are living near this wreck. But, can we do better? We can always do better.”

On Whether Or Not West Virginia Should Provide Oil Shipment Data to the Public

“The issue is: should local communities have the routing data for trains carrying crude oil or hazardous materials. And, I think the railroad’s broad position on this is, first off, they’ll follow the law. But, secondly, they think that people that need to know ought to have that information. That first responders, that emergency responders on the state and local level, they need to have that information but that it shouldn’t be widely broadcast and widely available. There have been indications in terrorist publications that attacking crude oil or HAZMAT trains has been on their agenda and I don’t think it’s wise that we give potential terrorists all the information they need to plan an attack. One of the things that makes it difficult to attack a train is that freight trains don’t move by regular schedules. They move when they’re ready to go. And I think that’s a plus from a security standpoint. I think the state of West Virginia and the emergency managers get that information and share it as they see fit, I’m sure.” 

Note: Other states have allowed oil shipment data to become public. In October 2014, McClatchy DC reported that The Federal Railroad Administration concluded “Bakken train data isn’t sensitive on either a security or commercial basis, nor is it protected from disclosure by any federal law.”