Emergency Order on Flammable Liquid Rail Transport Issued by DOT, With Advisories

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By Rachel Leven
April 17 — The Transportation Department issued today a package of speed limit, inspection and response requirements, advisories and requests for crude oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids shippers and rail carriers, all of which take effect immediately.

The emergency order would require certain trains carrying Class 3 flammable liquids to restrict their speed to 40 miles per hour in specific urban areas. A separate safety advisory would recommend that railroads conduct pre-departure inspections of certain trains' brakes and mechanical systems and lower the threshold for determining when to replace a wheel, and another safety advisory would urge carriers and shippers to have certain information accessible for federal investigators in case of a derailment.

Several of the actions apply to "high-hazard flammable" trains—defined as trains that are moving 20 or more tank cars of a Class 3 flammable liquid, including crude oil and ethanol, in a continuous block or that are moving 35 or more tank cars of these liquids. Such trains also would have to include at least one older DOT-111 tank car or CPC-1232 standard car that is transporting these liquids. Federal standards requiring more protective tank cars are under development.

"Addressing the risks associated with moving unprecedented volumes of crude oil by rail is not something that can be accomplished with one rule or emergency order. We are continuously looking at ways to protect people, communities, and the environment," Susan Lagana, deputy director of public affairs for the Transportation Department, told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.

"The actions we are taking today are based on the Department's observations and analyses of the recent accidents and are intended to both prevent future accidents and to mitigate the consequences should one occur. We examined options that railroads could implement immediately, and that is what we are presenting in this package," Lagana said.

With increased transport of oil by rail, crude oil train derailments have occurred more frequently in recent years and have harmed the environment, property and the public.The announcement also comes just weeks before a separate Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration final rule on safe transport of flammable liquids by rail is expected to be released.

Emergency Order 

The emergency order, issued by the Federal Railroad Administration, requires certain trains to reduce their speed to 40 miles per hour in "high threat urban areas" or "an area comprising one or more cities and surrounding areas includ[ing] a 10-mile buffer zone."

The FRA chose 40 miles per hour, despite several recent derailments occurring at speeds lower than that, because lower speeds could increase other safety risks and harm interstate commerce and because this speed would "substantially mitigate the effects of any accidents as when compared to accidents that occur at higher speeds," the order said.

The Association of American Railroads in February 2014 voluntarily lowered its speed limit to 40 miles per hour for trains that are carrying large amounts of crude oil with at least one older DOT-111 tank car through these areas. However, the DOT order would apply to the newer CPC-1232 model cars and to transport of all Class 3 flammable liquids, not just crude oil.

The order is effective immediately and railroads must implement the change by April 24.

The FRA also issued a safety advisory that urges railroads operating high-hazard flammable trains to lower the threshold for determining when to replace a wheel and to use a qualified mechanical inspector and a designated inspector to conduct pre-departure brake and freight car inspections, respectively. This advisory addresses FRA's preliminary finding that the March 5 derailment in Galena may have been due to "a broken wheel on one of the loaded tank cars," the advisory said.

Wheel, Brake Inspections 

Under the advisory, railroads are urged to continue using Wheel Impact Load Detectors to measure the wheel's impact for a given tank car (a higher impact indicates a more significant need to replace the wheel). However, the railroads should lower the "kip"—a measurement of force measured by the load detector—that leads the railroad to replace a wheel. For example, a railroad should stop a train immediately and inspect a wheel at 120 kips rather than 140 kips.

Railroads should also use highly trained brake and mechanical inspectors—known as qualified mechanical inspectors and designated inspectors—to check for defects in brakes, wheels and other components before departing for any trip of 500 miles or more rather than using a less qualified inspector, such as a train crew member, the advisory said.

Additionally, the FRA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a safety advisory urging railroads and shippers for high-hazard flammable liquid trains to ensure that certain information is immediately available for FRA and PHMSA investigators, should a derailment occur.

For example, information regarding the train "consist" (such as tank car attributes), the origin and destination of the train, results of product testing and analysis and relevant Safety Data Sheets or other emergency response documents should be available as quickly as possible, the advisory said.

Other Steps 

Finally, the FRA and PHMSA took several steps to collect additional information regarding incidents and to make more information available quickly to emergency responders. The FRA released a to-be-published Federal Register information collection notice that would capture certain information regarding crude oil train accidents, "provid[ing] FRA an opportunity to better address risks to railroad safety and the general public."

FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg sent a letter to AAR Chief Executive Officer Edward Hamberger requesting that railroads voluntarily create processes to "gather, organize and store various information" on high-hazard trains to be able to provide information to FRA and emergency responders immediately and within 90 minutes.

PHMSA also released a notice to all hazmat shippers and carriers reminding them of their obligations to have specific information such as such as the basic description and technical name of the hazardous material being transported and the personnel involved in offering or shipping materials accessible for emergency responders.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rachel Leven in Washington at rleven@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

The FRA's Emergency Order No. 30 is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=rlen-9vnm5p.

The FRA's Safety Advisory 2015-01 is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=rlen-9vnm6p.

The joint FRA and PHMSA Safety Advisory 2015-02 is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=rlen-9vnm7f.

The PHMSA notice is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=rlen-9vnm8k.

The FRA notice is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=rlen-9vnm9d.

The FRA letter to AAR is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=rlen-9vnm9p.

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