Calling the number of “significant accidents” involving trains carrying ethanol or crude oil as “unprecedented,” FRA and PHMSA issued one Emergency Order, two Safety Advisories, and several Notices to Industry “intended to further enhance the safe shipment of Class 3 flammable liquids” (which according to data complied by the Association of American Railroads reaches its destination without a rail-related incident 99.996% of the time).
“These actions represent the latest in a series of more than two dozen that DOT has initiated over the past 19 months to address the significant threat to public safety that accidents involving trains carrying highly flammable liquids can represent,” the agencies said. “The actions taken today coincide with actions being taken by other government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Energy (DOE).”
“Preliminary investigation of one recent derailment indicates that a mechanical defect involving a broken tank car wheel may have caused or contributed to the incident,” FRA said. “The FRA is therefore recommending that only the highest skilled inspectors conduct brake and mechanical inspections of trains transporting large quantities of flammable liquids, and that industry decrease the threshold for wayside detectors that measure wheel impacts, to ensure the wheel integrity of tank cars in those trains.”
“Recent accidents revealed that certain critical information about the train and its cargo needs to be immediately available for use by emergency responders or federal investigators who arrive on scene shortly after an incident,” FRA added. “To address the information gap, DOT is taking several actions to remind both the oil industry and the rail industry of their obligation to provide these critical details.”
PHMSA issued a Safety Advisory “reminding carriers and shippers of the specific types of information that they must make immediately available to emergency responders.” FRA and PHMSA issued a joint Safety Advisory requesting that “specific information also be made readily available to investigators.” On top of this, FRA sent a request to the Association of American Railroads “asking the industry to develop a formal process by which this specific information becomes available to both emergency responders and investigators within 90 minutes of initial contact with an investigator,” and submitted to the Federal Register a notice proposing to expand the information collected on certain required accident reports “so that information specific to accidents involving trains transporting crude oil is reported.”
The information required by the PHMSA Safety Advisory requested includes:
• Basic description and technical name of the hazardous material and the immediate hazard to health.
• Risks of fire or explosion.
• Immediate precautions to be taken in the event of an accident.
• Immediate methods for handling fires
• Initial methods for handling spills or leaks in the absence of fire • Preliminary first aid measures.
24-hour telephone number for immediate access to product information.
Information sought by the USDOT in the event of a crude-by-rail accident includes:
• Information on the train consist, including the train number, locomotive(s), locomotives as distributed power, end-of-train device information, number and position of tank cars in the train, tank car reporting marks, and the tank car specifications and relevant attributes of the tank cars in the train.
• Waybill (origin and destination) information.
• The Safety Data Sheet(s) or any other documents used to provide comprehensive emergency response and incident mitigation information for Class 3 flammable liquids.
Results of any product testing undertaken prior to transportation that was used to properly characterize the Class 3 flammable liquids for transportation (initial testing).
• Results from any analysis of product sample(s) (taken prior to being offered into transportation) from tank car(s) involved in the derailment.
• Date of acceptance as required to be noted on shipping papers under 49 CFR § 174.24.
• If a refined flammable liquid is involved, the type of liquid and the name and location of the company extracting the material.
• The identification of the company having initial testing performed (sampling and analysis of material) and information on the lab (if external) conducting the analysis.
• Name and location of the company transporting the material from well head to loading facility or terminal.
• Name and location of the company that owns and that operates the terminal or loading facility that loaded the product for rail transportation.
• Name of the railroad(s) handling the tank car(s) at any time from point of origin to destination and a timeline of handling changes between railroads.
The US DOT said that it “has determined that public safety compels issuance of an Emergency Order to require that trains transporting large amounts of Class 3 flammable liquid through certain highly populated areas adhere to a maximum authorized operating speed limit of 40 mph in High Threat Urban Areas. Under the EO, an affected train is one that contains: 1) 20 or more loaded tank cars in a continuous block, or 35 or more loaded tank cars, of Class 3 flammable liquid; and, 2) at least one DOT-111 tank car (including a CPC-1232) loaded with a Class 3 flammable liquid.”
FRA and PHMSA pointed out that since 2013, there have been 23 crude-oil-related train accidents in the U.S., but acknowledged that “the majority of incidents occurred without the release of any crude oil product.”
In response, the AAR said that 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,” and 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,” said AAR President and CEO Ed Hamberger. “Railroads, like all supply chain stakeholders, anxiously await the federal government’s final rules on tank cars, which directly addresses the heart of mitigation.” He added that the industry “shares the belief that there is no greater priority than safety. It is always our goal to make a safe network even safer, and as FRA data shows, 2014 was the safest year for train accidents in railroad history.”
Regarding the Emergency Order pertaining to train speeds, AAR pointed out that freight railroads in February 2014 “voluntarily imposed a 40 mph speed restriction through High Threat Urban Areas for crude oil trains last year.”