By Patrick Rucker
WASHINGTON, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Many oil-by-rail shipments will slow down through urban areas and track inspections will increase on high-traffic areas in response to a string of fiery derailments in the last several months, the American Association of Railroads said on Friday.
The rail industry agreed to the voluntary measures in consultation with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has been trying to prevent future mishaps.
Among the steps, large cargoes of oil will be fitted with new braking technology meant to prevent a pile-up on the tracks in case of a derailment.
That measure will be in place by April and by July, many large shipments of crude oil will abide by a 40-mph speed limit (64 kph) in urban areas, the American Association of Railroads (AAR) said.
The safety of existing tank cars has come under particular scrutiny, and the rail industry trade group said that it would take more care with the DOT-111 model - the workhorse for oil-by-rail shipments.
Trains will abide by the lower speed in urban areas if an older model DOT-111 is on the chain of tank cars in that shipment, the AAR said.
Also of particular concern is fuel produced out of new energy patches like North Dakota's Bakken region where rail transport has surged ahead alongside oil production.
Bakken oil shipments could be more flammable and prone to explosion than crude oil from other regions, officials have said, and regulators are trying to better understand the risk of carrying that fuel on the tracks.
Earlier in the week, the American Petroleum Institute said that it will work to improve testing and classification of oil-by-rail shipments.
"Safety is a shared responsibility among all energy-supply-chain stakeholders," AAR President and CEO Edward Hamberger said in a statement.
In a letter to the association this week, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said "the rapid increase in the production and transportation of crude oil requires additional vigilance."
Early this month, the DOT fined three North Dakota oil companies $93,000 for wrongly classifying fuel shipments out of the state.
A DOT official said on Friday that officials are still studying crude shipments out of North Dakota and that further regulatory and enforcement action could be taken in the coming weeks.