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What We Haul

Crude Oil by Rail

In light of increased volumes of crude oil moving by rail, the nation's freight railroads have done top-to-bottom reviews and improved their operations and federal regulators have issued new regulations governing the transportation of crude oil by rail (CBR). The result: freight railroads move unit oil trains under rules as rigorous as those required for more hazardous materials (hazmat). Thanks to a nationwide rail network infused by years of major private investment reaching into the hundreds of billions of dollars, railroads are safely and efficiently transporting what America's economy needs and helping the nation achieve energy independence.

Quick Facts

Rail safety is at an all-time high. The freight train derailment rate on the country’s nearly 140,000-mile mainline network reached an all-time low in 2016.

Fewer than 1% of all derailments in 2016 involved crude oil.

Safety improvements are continuous and include rigorous employee training; self-imposed operating practices and community-safety efforts; increased emergency response planning and training; special routing technology that analyzes safe and secure rail routes; increased track inspections; stronger tank cars and high-tech, track-side safety techniques.

Increased spending equals increased safety. Freight railroads have spent more than $635 billion on infrastructure and equipment over the past 30 years to maintain and modernize the nation’s rail network, averaging about $27 billion a year over the past several years.

The industry endorses a recent USDOT ruling that older tank car carrying crude oil be upgraded or replaced. The freight rail industry has long advocated for stronger tank car standards.

Federal regulation​ and self-imposed safety practices dictate train speeds, equipment and infrastructure inspections, procedures for how to handle and secure trains carrying hazmat and much more.


  • 99.99% of all tank cars containing crude oil arrive at their destination safely
  • The train accident rate in 2016 was down 42% from 2000
  • Equipment-caused accidents in 2016 were down 34% from 2000
  • Track-caused accidents in 2016 were down 52% from 2000 
  • Derailments in 2016 were down 43% from 2000


Timeline: Freight Rail CBR Safety Actions

AUG. 2009: AAR begins the process to upgrade industry tank car standards that would exceed the safety standards of DOT-111s.

MAR. 2011: AAR formally petitions the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to implement tougher tank car specifications for DOT-111 tank cars used for crude oil and other hazmat.

AUG. 2011: In the absence of any announcement by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the AAR Tank Car Committee adopts industry construction specifications for new tank cars and the stronger CPC-1232 design becomes the standard for all tank cars built after October 2011.

AUG. 2013: The freight rail industry responds to DOT Emergency Order No. 28 and Safety Advisory to further strengthen train operations on mainline tracks or sidings. AAR modifies industry best practices, making trains carrying 20 or more carloads of any hazmat subject to a speed restriction.

NOV. 2013: AAR again urges DOT to improve federal tank car regulations and require all tank cars transporting hazardous flammable liquids such as crude oil be retrofitted or phased out of crude service.

FEB. 2014: Following discussions with DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx, the nation’s major freight railroads issue voluntary safety initiatives for the transportation of CBR, including new operating practices such as speed reductions for trains transporting crude oil, increased inspections of tracks on crude oil routes and stepped-up crude oil incident training for first responders.

FEB. 2014: DOT issues an Emergency Order on classification and packaging of crude oil.

MAY 2014: AAR forms a joint task force with the American Petroleum Institute (API) to examine components associated with moving CBR.

MAY 2014: PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Association (FRA) issue a Safety Advisory discouraging the use of DOT-111 tank cars. DOT issues an Emergency Order requiring railroads to inform first responders about crude oil routes.

JUL. 2014: AAR provides DOT with access to an inventory of emergency response resources available to respond to hazmat accidents.

JUL. 2014: DOT issues a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on tank car standards and an Advanced NPRM on oil spill response planning requirements.

JUL. 2014: A three-day training course for first responders focused exclusively on CBR takes place at the Transportation and Technology Center’s Security and Emergency Response Training Center (TTCI/SERTC)  in Pueblo, Colorado (an AAR subsidiary). More than 1,500 emergency responders receive classroom and in-field training in 2014 at the world-class facility.

SEPT. 2014: In comments to DOT’s proposed rules for regulating crude oil trains, AAR again calls for dramatically-improved tank cars that carry crude oil and ethanol and proposes a comprehensive safety package, which includes thicker shells, thermal protection and appropriately-sized pressure relief devices. AAR advocates an aggressive retrofit or phase-out program for crude service tank cars.

OCT. 2014: Roll-out begins of the industry-developed AskRail mobile application, which is an additional tool for emergency responders to access tank car information when responding to an incident.

NOV. 2014: SERTC launches web-based crude oil training for first responders.

JAN. 2015: AAR further modifies industry best practices to increase commodity flow information provided to local emergency response agencies for all hazmat being transported through their communities.

MAR. 2015: AAR and API announce a new CBR safety course for first responders. The program, to be offered through the Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response (TRANSCAER) program, is in addition to specialized training offered to thousands of first responders by railroads in local communities, at TTCI and through web-based training.  AAR enhances the AskRailTM application, which provides responders with access to emergency response information about the hazmat in an entire train by entering one car or locomotive number. 

APR. 2015: PHMSA issues a Safety Advisory on emergency response information; FRA issues an Emergency Order on maximum speeds for CBR moving through certain highly populated areas and FRA issues a Safety Advisory on brake and mechanical inspections for trains moving crude.

MAY 2015: DOT issues a comprehensive final rule on tank car standards and operations for moving large volumes of flammable liquids by rail.

MAY 2015: PHMSA issues Transportation Rail Incident Preparedness and Response (TRIPR) training modules on best practices related to rail incidents involving flammable liquids.

JUL. 2015: FRA further specifies requirements for railroad notifications to State Emergency Response Commissions concerning crude oil.

SEP. 2015: DOT announces $5.9 million in first responder grants specific to crude oil incidents.

DEC. 2015: Congress passes the FAST Act, which includes numerous provisions supported by the freight railroad industry related to rail safety generally, emergency response training and the safe transport of flammable liquids by rail. Among these are requirements for web-based training for emergency responders, emergency preparedness and training grants, specifications for real-time emergency response information, enhanced tank car standards and a mandatory phase-out schedule for older tank cars.

FEB. 2016: The proposed rule on oil spill planning and information sharing for crude oil trains is revised based on FAST Act requirements and sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review.

MAY 2016: AAR urges DOT to adopt a thermal protection requirement for flammable liquid cars which exceeds DOT’s current standard, and which all thermal blanket manufacturers currently meet. The new standard would increase the amount of time flammable liquids could survive a pool fire and reduce the chance for thermal tears.