Rail cars used to ship oil called 'unacceptable'

The nation's freight railroads back stricter safety standards for oil tank cars and more inspections of tracks and trains, industry officials told a congressional hearing on Wednesday.

Concerns over the safety of oil rail cars jumped in December when oil cars derailed and exploded outside Casselton, N.D., triggering a near catastrophe.

Since then, lawmakers and regulators have been looking for ways to tighten regulation and standards. The government agency tasked with finalizing those standards, however, has not said when they'll be done.

"Our nation cannot take full advantage of new crude oil resources without a safe, efficient, financially healthy freight rail system," Edward Hamberger, head of the Association of American Railroads, told a House transportation committee panel.

Many of those crude oil trains travel from North Dakota's Bakken oil fields across Minnesota. The North Dakota oil boom has happened so quickly that there are still few pipelines to get the oil out of the state. More than 70 percent of Bakken crude travels by train, often through Minnesota.

Minnesota U.S. Rep. Tim Walz says he's heard from communities in his southern Minnesota district that are concerned they don't have the resources to handle a major spill or fire. While grants for training and equipment are available to cities, Walz said those aren't always distributed well.

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