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— by Pat Foran, editor
For the past year, the lack of "real information" surrounding the development of tank-car design and/or safe crude-by-rail (CBR) regulation has made railroad execs, shippers and rail-car owners, lessors and builders "jittery," as one lessor told us earlier this year. Well, the information started to get real last month. I apologize in advance for the acronym fest.
On July 23, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) released details on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) that aim to improve the safety of transporting large quantities of flammable materials by rail, particularly crude oil and ethanol.
Based on an ANPRM published in September 2013 by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the NPRM proposes three enhanced tank-car design standards, a classification and testing program for mined gases and liquids, and new operational requirements for high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT) that include braking controls and speed restrictions. Within two years, older DOT-111 type tank cars would be phased out for transporting group I flammable liquids, including most Bakken crude, unless the cars are retrofitted to comply with new design standards.
The ANPRM seeks further information on expanding comprehensive oil spill response planning requirements for shipments of flammable materials. Both the NPRM and ANPRM are open for a 60-day public comment period, and PHMSA doesn't intend to extend it.
What's PHMSA looking for, comment wise? Thoughts on the definition of a HHFT carrying 20 or more cars of flammable liquids, including crude and ethanol; a better classification and characterization of mined gases and liquids; a rail routing risk assessment; enhanced braking requirements; and enhanced standards for both new and existing tank cars. PHMSA also wants to hear stakeholders' thoughts on three proposed HHFT speed restriction options: a 40 mph limit in all areas; 40 mph limit in high-threat urban areas; or a 40 mph limit in areas with populations exceeding 100,000. (Railroads had fretted the NPRM would feature a 30 mph limit.)
With the exception of a fuel lobby decrying a PHMSA finding that Bakken crude tends to be more volatile and flammable than other crude oils, stakeholders' initial responses were muted: "CBR safety is our top priority here, but we'll review the proposal and weigh in later." We'll share their responses, jittery or otherwise, as we receive them.