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Casey: more oversight, resources needed for railcar safety

Sen. Casey and Councilman Johnson called for support of legislation.

Oil train passes through Philadelphia, Pa., on November 6, 2013. ( Jon Snyder / Philadelphia Daily News )
Oil train passes through Philadelphia, Pa., on November 6, 2013. ( Jon Snyder / Philadelphia Daily News )Read more

CITING THE GROWING number of railroad cars carrying crude oil through Philadelphia and the state, and a handful of recent derailments, Sen. Bob Casey yesterday called for the passage of federal legislation aimed at increasing railroad safety.

Casey, joined at a City Hall news conference by City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, said that although the recent local derailments did not result in oil leakage or injuries, Congress should be proactive in preventing more serious accidents in the future.

"What we can't do, though, is wait for the day when something terrible happens for us to act," Casey said.

The Senate bill he and Johnson are supporting would establish a subcommittee under the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Advisory Council.

The subcommittee, whose members would include officials from relevant government agencies, emergency responders, technical experts and people from the private sector, would review training, resources, best practices and unmet needs related to emergency responders to crude oil accidents and other railroad hazmat incidents, according to the bill.

Passage of the bill would also result in local first responders having more technology to use at derailments and would establish an incident database, said Casey, a Democrat.

Each week, between 45 and 80 crude oil trains originating from oil-rich North Dakota and operated by CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads travel through Philadelphia, making the city one of the nation's busiest areas for oil transportation, Casey said.

"We have to make sure that we have a policy that is commiserate with that challenge," he said.

"These are billion-dollar companies. There shouldn't be a reason why they are not investing in upgrading their infrastructure," Johnson said.

The subcommittee would provide recommendations to Congress within 12 months on emergency responder training and resource allocation, Casey said.

North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, first introduced the RESPONSE Act in June, but it was not enacted. She reintroduced the bill in February.

RESPONSE stands for Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation.