Wednesday, April 09, 2014

FRA to issue proposed rule on minimum train crew size

Written by  Mischa Wanek-Libman, Engineering Editor
FRA to issue proposed rule on minimum train crew size Ken James/Bloomberg

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) revealed its intention to issue a proposed rule requiring two-person train crews on crude oil trains and establishing minimum crew size standards for most main line freight and passenger rail operations. The FRA also intends to advance a rulemaking on train securement and recommends a rulemaking on the movement of hazardous materials.

The news of the proposed rule follows the deliberations of three Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) Working Groups on Appropriate Train Crew Size, Securement and Hazardous Materials Issues. All three Working Groups were created at the request of the U.S. Department of Transportation last summer in response to the Lac-Mégantic derailment. The emergency meeting was held to evaluate and consider wide-ranging proposals to further enhance railroad safety including the safe shipment of crude oil by rail. Two of the Working Groups produced recommendations that were adopted by the full RSAC for consideration in future rulemakings. However, they were unable to reach consensus on crew size, prompting the FRA to move forward with a rulemaking.

"We believe that safety is enhanced with the use of a multiple person crew—safety dictates that you never allow a single point of failure," FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo said. "Ensuring that trains are adequately staffed for the type of service operated is a critically important to ensure safety redundancy. We commend the RSAC's efforts and will use the valuable input received to formulate a proposed rule that protects the public and recognizes the nuance of railroad operations."

While existing FRA regulations do not mandate minimum crew staffing requirements, current industry practice is to have two person crews for over-the-road operations. The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) will most likely require a minimum of two person crews for most mainline train operations including those trains carrying crude oil. It is also expected to include appropriate exceptions.

FRA plans to issue an additional NPRM based on the consensus recommendations of the Securement Working Group and approved by the full RSAC that would prohibit certain unattended freight trains or standing freight cars on main track or sidings and require railroads to adopt and implement procedures to verify securement of trains and unattended equipment for emergency responders. It would also require locomotive cabs to be locked and reversers to be removed and secured. Railroads would also be required to obtain advance approval from FRA for locations or circumstances where unattended cars or equipment may be left.

The full RSAC also approved four recommendations of the Hazardous Materials Issues Working Group relating to identification, classification, operational control and handling of certain shipments. The four recommendations, directed to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), include amending or revising the definitions of "residue" and "key train" and clarifying its regulatory jurisdiction over the loading, unloading and storage of hazmat before and during transportation. PHMSA continues to advance a rulemaking addressing the integrity of DOT Specification 111 tanker cars and the safe shipment by rail of flammable materials, such as crude oil.

"Safety is our highest priority and we are committed to taking the necessary steps to assure the safety of those who work for railroads and shippers and the residents and communities along shipping routes," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "The proposed rulemaking on crew size is the latest effort in our comprehensive strategy to ensure crude oil is transported as safely as possible."