A string of fiery train derailments across the country has triggered a high-stakes but behind-the-scenes campaign to shape how the government responds to calls for tighter safety rules.

Billions of dollars are riding on how these rules are written.

Lobbyists from the railroads, tank car manufacturers and the oil, ethanol and chemical industries have met more than a dozen times since mid-May with officials at the White House and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Their message: Don't make us pay for increased safety — that's another industry's problem.

The pitches illustrate why government officials — who must show that safety benefits outweigh the economic costs of rules — often struggle for years only to produce watered-down regulations.