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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Feds issue another crude-by-rail emergency order, advisory to enhance safety

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) yesterday issued an emergency order requiring all railroads operating trains containing large amounts of Bakken crude oil to notify State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) about the operation of those trains through their states.

The order requires that each train carrying more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude, or about 35 tank cars, in a particular state provide the SERC notification regarding the expected movement of such trains and the affected counties. The notification must include estimated volumes of Bakken crude, frequencies of anticipated train traffic and the planned routes. The order also requires that railroads provide the SERCs contact information for at least one responsible party and help the commissions share the information with appropriate emergency responders in affected communities.

Freight railroads for years have worked with emergency responders and personnel to educate and inform them about the hazardous materials moving through their communities, said Association of American Railroads officials in a prepared statement.

"These open and transparent communications will continue as railroads do all they can to comply with the Department of Transportation’s emergency order," they said.

Meanwhile, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) yesterday issued a safety advisory strongly urging those shipping or offering Bakken crude to use tank-car designs with the highest available level of integrity. The FRA and PHMSA also are advising carriers and offerers to avoid the use of older legacy "DOT-111" or "CTC-111" tank cars to transport Bakken crude.

"Changes in railroad operations over the last several years, including increased rail traffic, higher in-train forces due to the transportation of hazardous materials tank cars at higher gross rail loads, and the likelihood of individual tank cars accumulating more miles annually, have resulted in tank car design changes to accommodate these increased stresses and to significantly reduce the chances of a catastrophic failure," FRA and PHMSA officials said in the safety advisory. "Design changes include new tank car steel and improvements of structural features. Older 'legacy' tank cars, however, without more modern construction and design enhancements, continue to be used to transport hazardous materials, including Bakken crude oil."

The two agencies have undertaken more than a dozen actions to enhance crude-by-rail safety over the past 10 months, USDOT officials said in a press release.

"The safety of our nation's railroad system, and the people who live along rail corridors, is of paramount concern," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "All options are on the table when it comes to improving the safe transportation of crude oil, and today’s actions, the latest in a series that make up an expansive strategy, will ensure that communities are more informed and that companies are using the strongest possible tank cars."

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More News from 5/8/2014