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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

PHMSA regulation should enhance flammable liquid transportation safety yet maintain rail efficiency, AAR says

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reiterated the freight-rail industry’s commitment to safe flammable liquid movements and improved tank-car standards in comments submitted to the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) on its proposed rulemaking about flammable materials transportation safety.

While considering a final rule, PHMSA should take into account not only the crude-by-rail safety measures outlined in the rail industry’s voluntary agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation, but that increased movements of crude oil help the nation advance toward energy independence, AAR officials said in a press release.

"Railroads are proud of their hazardous materials safety record, which reflects steadfast attention to training and protocols, as well as a constant focus on safety improvement and advancement," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger. "Railroads have been at the forefront of advocating for safer tank car standards and we believe the public supports regulation that weighs both safety and the ability to move people and goods in a timely and efficient manner."

Among its comments to PHMSA, the AAR requested that the agency:
• require 40 mph speed limits only in federally designated high-threat urban areas for trains with at least one legacy DOT-111 tank car moving flammable liquids since the speed restriction would be in addition to the industry’s self-imposed nationwide 50 mph limit for trains carrying 20 or more carloads of any hazardous material;
• refrain from requiring electronically controlled pneumatic brakes on tank cars used to move flammable liquids since they're costly systems that aren't justified in terms of improved safety benefits and could result in negative operational impacts on rail networks;
• increase federal tank-car specifications by adopting a new requirement for a half-inch shell for new cars in flammable liquid service, plus a one-eighth-inch jacket and thermal protection; and
• require the aggressive retrofit or phase out existing flammable liquid tank cars as soon as possible while still enabling the industry to meet increased demand to move flammable liquids by rail.

"Railroads have long supported improved tank car safety, and have a long history of collaborating with our customers and suppliers through the industry Tank Car Committee," said Hamberger. "These new tank-car specifications will greatly reduce the likelihood of a release due to an accident. We believe they should be implemented as aggressively as possible so that railroads can continue to provide the safe rail movement of flammable liquids our economy depends upon."

The AAR also submitted a response to PHMSA's advance notice of proposed rulemaking on oil spill response plans for trains moving flammable liquids.
"The railroads presented a possible regulatory text for railroad oil spill response plans that will augment the plans railroads already have in place today," said Hamberger.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D.N.D.) yesterday announced $5 million in federal funding to help train and prepare emergency personnel and first responders for potential hazardous materials incidents, including train derailments involving crude oil. The funding will support a federal training center at the Transportation Technology Center Inc. in Pueblo, Colo., for first responders involved in railroad haz-mat incidents.

The funds will enable the facility to train more first responders, Heitkamp said in a press release. First responders can apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to receive the training.

"The oil boom has created tremendous growth in North Dakota, but there are new challenges like the transportation of crude oil on the rails. And we cannot afford to leave the safety and security of our communities to chance," said Heitkamp. "We need to invest the proper resources in high-quality preparedness training for our first responders so they get the training to deal with potential incidents on the rails and can keep our communities safe."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/1/2014