Hearing Statement: Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development

Hearing Statement: Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development

WASHINGTON, D.C. – April 10, 2014 – (RealEstateRama) — U.S. Senator Susan Collins issued the following statement today at an Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development hearing held on the topic of rail safety:

Thank you, Chairman Murray. It is good to see you again Secretary Foxx, and welcome Chairman Hersman.

I also want to welcome the two witnesses from the great states of Maine and Washington: Fire Chief Tim Pellerin of Rangeley, Maine, and Barb Graff, Seattle’s Emergency Management Director. They will be testifying on the second panel to share with us their unique perspectives in responding to incidents involving hazardous materials.

The horrific derailment that occurred in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last year – just 30 miles from the Maine border – brought to light the importance of ensuring the safe transportation of energy products.

In the early morning hours of July 6, a freight train carrying hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil was sent hurtling toward the small, picturesque Canadian village. [refer to easel board] The picture displayed here illustrates what the town looked like before the accident.

The train derailed in the center of town, leveling several blocks and killing 47 residents. [refer to easel board again] This picture shows the devastation that can occur when hazardous materials are not safely transported.

Yet, out of this terrible calamity, I was heartened to hear the stories of more than 30 Maine firefighters, one of whom is with us today, who answered their Canadian neighbors’ call for help and rushed to the terrible scene. I look forward to hearing from Chief Pellerin on his first-hand experiences in Lac-Megantic.

Since the accident, the NTSB has also been working with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada and has made several recommendations that I look forward to discussing with Chairman Hersman today.

While this tragedy hit so very close to home for us Mainers, there have been several derailments of crude oil and other hazardous material recently across the country. Despite these incidents, the railroad industry maintains it has upheld a high safety record, and according to the Association of American Railroads, 99.997 percent of rail hazmat shipments reached their destination without a release of product.

This underscores the problem we face today – we must ensure that we are taking the necessary steps to prevent another Lac-Megantic, but at the same time it would be irresponsible for us to overburden an industry that has a proven track record of safety.

Mr. Secretary, when you appeared before this Subcommittee just weeks ago, I asked you about the Administration’s proposal for a new $40 million fund to support the safe transportation of crude oil and other energy products. You explained that: the Department needs “the flexibility to be able to distribute resources where they are needed… whether it is inspectors, whether it is research, whether it is testing…” It is clear to me that there is no “silver bullet” to address the challenges of crude oil transportation. This is a complicated, multi-faceted problem that requires coordination among several agencies within the Department.

We must be look at three components of addressing this important safety issue: prevention, mitigation, and response. This includes everything from preventing derailments by fixing railroad track, minimizing leakage by strengthening tank cars, and ensuring emergency responders and firefighters are properly trained and equipped.

Yet it should not stop there. The Department must work with all railroads, Class One and short-line alike, the oil and gas industry, as well as state and local community emergency responders to determine a holistic approach to improve safety.

It is also important to recognize that much of the rail network exists in rural America. This presents unique challenges to small towns that often lack resources to effectively respond to hazardous material emergencies.

The path forward is complicated, but I am encouraged by the progress being made through voluntary measures agreed to by the railroad industry and DOT.

It is essential that the issues before us today are addressed in an expeditious manner. We will be taking a close look at how this subcommittee can best address rail safety through our appropriations bill. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today.

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