The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced several actions taken on April 17, 2015 to promote the safe rail transportation of crude oil and ethanol. These steps were implemented through coordinated efforts with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). DOT supported the need for these measures based on the exponentially increasing volume of crude oil being shipped by rail and the number of recent significant accidents involving trains carrying ethanol or crude oil.

The DOT’s first action was to issue an Emergency Order directing railroads to operate certain trains at speeds of no more than 40 miles per hour through High Threat Urban Areas. Trains affected are those with 20 or more tank cars in a continuous block, or 35 or more total tank cars, loaded with a Class 3 flammable liquid, and those that include at least one DOT-111 tank car (whether or not the car meets the CPC-1232 standard) loaded with a Class 3 flammable liquid.

Additionally, PHMSA issued a Safety Advisory reminding shippers, railroads and offerors of their duties to supply certain emergency response information for use by emergency responders in the event of an incident. PHMSA summarized the required information, generally found at 49 CFR § 172.604, in its advisory.

PHMSA and FRA also jointly issued a related Safety Advisory requesting that certain information be made available to accident investigators promptly after an incident, including:

  • Information about the train involved (such as waybill information and other data)
  • The commodities on the train
  • Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
  • Documentation on commodity testing and classification
  • Results from any analysis of product samples
  • The parties involved in testing, transloading and transportation from any wellhead
  • The name(s) of any railroad(s) handling the tank cars from origin to destination and a timeline of handling changes between the railroads

To facilitate implementation of these two Safety Advisories, FRA issued a request to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) asking that the rail industry develop a formal process by which the information identified in the Safety Advisories would be made available to emergency responders and investigators within 90 minutes of initial contact with an investigator. In its letter, FRA requested a meeting with AAR within 30 days to discuss implementation of these measures, which FRA would like to see implemented within 30 days of the request.

FRA also issued a public Notice and Request for Comments regarding its plan to expand the information that must be reported when a crude oil train is involved in an FRA-reportable accident. The notice was issued in Docket No. FRA-2015-0007-N-2, and comments will be due 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. FRA’s proposal would gather this additional data for a projected five-year period. The new information that FRA seeks to collect for reportable accidents is the number of rail cars carrying crude oil, the number of cars damaged or derailed carrying crude oil, and the numbers of cars releasing crude oil.

Finally, FRA issued a Safety Advisory recommending that railroads use highly qualified individuals to conduct the brake and mechanical inspections required on trains. In addition, FRA recommends reducing the impact threshold levels the industry currently uses for wayside detectors that measure wheel impacts. The FRA Safety Advisory was prompted by an investigation of a recent crude oil derailment that has indicated that a broken tank car wheel may have caused or contributed to the derailment.