New federal rules regarding Bakken oil trains aim to make them safer

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A big development in an issue FOX6 News first brought to your attention in November 2014 -- those Bakken oil trains. Those trains are loaded with a highly explosive type of oil -- and they go right through dozens of neighborhoods in southeast Wisconsin. On Friday, May 1st, the federal government came out with new rules to make them safer.

The primary concern about the tank cars carrying Bakken crude is they are too thin -- not enough metal to protect against punctures in a crash. Even new tank car improvements couldn't prevent two recent explosions -- one in West Virginia -- and a week later, just south of the border in Illinois. Both trains had passed through Wisconsin.

Trains carrying crude from the fracking fields in North Dakota are a regular sight now -- and they are hauling massive amounts of oil.

Earlier this week, Milwaukee's Common Council heard people's concerns.

The move at the federal level Friday addresses several issues with the tank cars -- many of which were designed to haul corn syrup and not crude oil. All new cars coming onto the tracks after September 2015 much have a thicker tank shell, a metal jacket around the tank, full height head shields and upgraded valves. Existing tank cars that carry Bakken crude will have to be retrofitted to meet the new standards.

The federal government is also requiring the following:

    Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin has been pushing for improvements. She is concerned the new rules allow the old tank cars to continue hauling crude for up to five more years before all the retrofitting is done. She has introduced legislation that would take those tank cars off the tracks immediately.

    One issue the new federal rules do not address is the composition of the Bakken crude that makes it so volatile. It has a higher vapor pressure than other oils. The technology is there to essentially stabilize it at the source. But that is an oil company issue, not a railroad issue -- and the rules Friday came from the Department of Transportation.