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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

USDOT proposes new oil-spill rule for high-hazard trains


The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) today announced proposed regulations for oil spill response plans and information sharing for high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs).

The proposed regulations — developed by the department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration — are designed to improve oil spill response readiness and mitigate the effects for rail accidents involving petroleum oil, according to a USDOT press release.

The proposed rule would update and clarify oil-spill response plan requirements for certain trains, and would require railroads to share information with state and tribal emergency response commissions to improve communities' readiness for potential accidents.

In addition, the rule would incorporate a test method that would determine the initial boiling point for flammable liquids into the government's hazardous materials regulations.

"Incidents involving crude oil can have devastating consequences to local communities and the environment. We've taken more than 30 actions in the last two years to continue to address risk, and we continue to push the industry to do more to prevent derailments from happening," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The new proposed rule "goes one step further to hold industry accountable to plan and prepare for the worst case scenario," Foxx said.

"It would help to ensure that railroads have comprehensive plans to respond to derailments when they occur and better ensure the safety of communities living near railroads,” the secretary added.

The rule would expand comprehensive respond plan requirements under the Clean Water Act to certain HHFTs based on how much crude oil is being transported. The changes would require certain HHFTs to have comprehensive instead of the currently required basic plans.

In addition, it would require the train operator to be prepared to respond to an incident involving a worst-case discharge, or the largest quantity of oil reasonably expected to be discharged during an incident. The rule also would codify the requirement that railroads share all information about HHFT operations with state and tribal emergency response commissions to improve readiness as required under the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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