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Report: Rail industry must answer for oil train accidents

WASHINGTON - The rail industry is chiefly responsible for preventing oil train accidents and U.S. regulators must do more to keep trains on the tracks, a leading voice for the energy industry said on Monday.

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The charred remains of a house and a vehicle are shown below a derailed CSX Corp train in Mount Carbon, West Virginia, in this file photo taken February 17, 2015. CSX Corp is temporarily rerouting up to five oil trains through this small riverside town to bypass the site of an explosive oil train derailment that occurred 90 miles north in Mount Carbon, West Virginia, on February 23, 2015. REUTERS / Marcus Constantino / File

WASHINGTON - The rail industry is chiefly responsible for preventing oil train accidents and U.S. regulators must do more to keep trains on the tracks, a leading voice for the energy industry said on Monday.

"Any effort to enhance rail safety must begin with addressing track integrity and human factors," Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Drevna's letter specifically disputed comments last week from Sarah Feinberg, acting head of the Federal Railroad Administration, who said the energy industry must do more to control the volatility of oil trains.

"(We) are running out of things that we can put on the railroads to do," she told reporters.

Oil train tankers have jumped the tracks in a string of mishaps that resulted in explosions and fires.

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Several of those shipments originated from North Dakota's Bakken energy fields. Officials have warned that fuel from the region is particularly light and volatile.

Keeping oil trains on the tracks is the best way to prevent disaster, Drevna wrote.

He cited government data that there were more than 1,100 derailments on major rail lines last year and that poor track conditions were a leading cause of those accidents.

Drevna said he was surprised to learn from Feinberg that federal regulators were satisfied with the safety record of rail operators.

"Does DOT believe that the current frequency of derailments is acceptable?" he wrote. "Do you disagree that additional track inspections and more robust track maintenance requirements would significantly enhance safety?"

The White House is expected to endorse a national oil train safety plan by May. The proposal will likely require thicker tank cars, advanced braking systems and other improvements.

Drevna wrote that refiners have invested about $4 billion in recent years to adopt safer tank car designs, even as the industry waited for a safety blueprint from Washington.

Feinberg's remarks "show a fundamental misunderstanding of the root cause of rail accidents," Drevna said in the letter.

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Also on Monday, U.S. Senator Al Franken endorsed Feinberg's comments on the oil industry.

"I urge you to take whatever actions necessary to address the safety of the product itself, as your comments called for, and require that this crude oil be made less volatile before it is shipped through my state and across the country," the Minnesota Democrat wrote to Feinberg.

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