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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

USDOT's new actions, emergency order address transport of energy products by rail


The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) late last week announced new and additional actions to address concerns identified in recent train accidents involving crude oil and ethanol shipped by rail.

The actions, announced with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), included one emergency order, two safety advisories and several "notices to industry" intended to further enhance the safe shipment of Class 3 flammable liquids, USDOT officials said in a press release.

Among the actions announced:
• The FRA is recommending that only the highest skilled inspectors conduct brake and mechanical inspections of trains transporting large quantities of flammable liquids, and that the industry lower the threshold for wayside detectors that measure wheel impacts.
• PHMSA issued a safety advisory reminding carriers and shippers of specific information about trains and cargo that must be made available to emergency responders immediately after an accident.
• FRA and PHMSA issued a joint safety advisory requesting specific information also be made readily available to investigators.
• FRA is requesting the Association of American Railroads (AAR) ask the industry to develop a formal process by which such information would be made available to emergency responders and investigators within 90 minutes of initial contact with an investigator.
• FRA submitted to the Federal Register a notice proposing to expand the information collected on certain required accident reports.

USDOT's emergency order requires that trains transporting large amounts of Class 3 flammable liquid through certain highly populated areas limit their speed to 40 mph or lower in "high threat urban areas." The order covers trains that contain 20 or more tank cars in a continuous block, or 35 or more loaded tank cars, of Class 3 flammable liquid; and at least one DOT-111 or CPC-1232 tank car loaded with Class 3 liquid.

"Taking the opportunity to review safety steps and to refresh information before moving forward is a standard safety practice in many industries and we expect the shipping and carrier industries to do the same," said Acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg.

The first priority is to prevent accidents from happening, added Acting PHMSA Administrator Tim Butters.

"But when accidents do occur, first responders need to have the right information quickly, so we are reminding carriers and shippers of their responsibility to have the required information readily available and up to date," Butters said.

Since 2013, 23 crude-related train accidents have happened in the United States, with the majority occurring without any crude oil being released. But in response to such accidents, the FRA and PHMSA have undertaken about two dozen actions to improve upon the safety of crude by rail.

In a prepared statement in response to the USDOT's actions, AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger said the industry shares the belief that safety is the top priority. He noted that 2014 was the safest year for train accidents in industry history, according to FRA data.

"The added federal directives build on the many practices and protocols the industry has applied for years for safely moving and handling hazardous materials by rail, including flammable liquids," said Hamberger, who noted that while some provisions are based on existing railroad practices, others are problematic.

For example, one of the agency’s advisories would have railroads provide customer information they don’t possess and customers are not required to provide.

"Overall, these federal provisions reflect the fact that moving crude by rail is a shared responsibility, involving a safety system of prevention, mitigation and response," Hamberger added. "Railroads, like all supply chain stakeholders, anxiously await the federal government’s final rules on tank cars, which directly addresses the heart of mitigation."

All documents are available here.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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