By Patrick Rucker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials have promised to issue within weeks new safety standards for the kind of tank cars involved in a spate of fiery derailments in recent months, a lawmaker said on Thursday.
Rail cars carrying crude oil out of the Bakken region of North Dakota have been involved in several mishaps that have surprised officials with the force of the explosion.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Thursday told lawmakers that he planned to meet with rail and oil executives next week as officials try to understand what caused these mishaps, North Dakota's Senator John Hoeven said.
Foxx also promised to visit the state's oil patch in coming weeks to see the situation on the ground, said Hoeven after a meeting with the transportation chief.
"They want to make sure the right product is going into the correct rail car," Hoeven said about concerns that volatile fuel might be wrongly labeled and packaged.
Foxx also said that federal specifications on tank cars would come "in weeks, not months," Hoeven said.
A string of explosive train accidents involving Bakken crude, including a derailment in Quebec in July that killed dozens of people, have intensified pressure on regulators to ensure crude-by-rail shipments are safe.
The latest incident came on Tuesday evening, when a train hauling crude oil and fuel gas derailed and caught fire in New Brunswick, Canada.
As new drilling techniques have increased oil production in much of the country, train shipments are often the preferred way to reach distant refiners.
Depending on the new toughness standards set by officials, old railcars could be retired or brought into workshops for retrofits.
Regulators are particularly concerned about the safety of DOT-111 tank cars which have been a workhorse of the national rail fleet but have also been involved in a number of recent mishaps.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has said older models of DOT-111 are vulnerable to leaks and explosions.
Such cars were involved in the deadly Canadian explosion and Tuesday's incident.
Also attending Thursday's hour-long meeting was North Dakota's other senator, Heidi Heitkamp, and Cynthia Quarterman, who oversees dangerous train shipments as administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
(Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrew Hay)