The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), along with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), recently took additional steps in their action plan to improve safety with respect to transportation of flammable liquids, including crude oil, by rail.  These steps consisted of several main actions:

  • PHMSA Safety Advisory reminding hazardous materials shippers and carriers of “their responsibility to ensure that current, accurate and timely emergency response information is immediately available to emergency response officials for shipments of hazardous materials, and such information is maintained on a regular basis.”
  • PHMSA and FRA Safety Advisory reminding railroads operating a “high hazard flammable train” (HHFT) and offerors of Class 3 flammable liquids transported on such trains that certain information may be required by PHMSA and/or FRA personnel in their investigation immediately following an accident.
  • FRA Emergency Order requiring that trains transporting large amounts of Class 3 flammable liquid through certain highly populated areas to adhere to a speed limit (40 mph).
  • FRA Safety Advisory making recommendations intended to enhance the mechanical safety of the cars in trains transporting large quantities of flammable liquids.  In particular, the advisory recommends that railroads use highly qualified individuals to conduct the brake and mechanical inspections and recommends a reduction to the impact threshold levels the industry currently uses for wayside detectors that measure wheel impacts to ensure the wheel integrity of tank cars in those trains.
  • FRA Notice and comment request to gather additional data concerning rail cars carrying petroleum crude oil in any train involved in an FRA reportable accident. 
  • FRA Acting Administrator letter to the president of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) seeking an additional voluntary commitment to ensure certain relevant information is available to FRA and emergency responders immediately following a HHFT derailment, including information related to the lading, tank cars, and trains involved.  The letter requests a meeting within 30 days to discuss development of a process to do so.

These materials reference the July 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, as highlighting potential consequences of a railroad accident involving flammable liquids, as well as a number of other subsequent accidents in the U.S. involving trains transporting large quantities of crude oil and ethanol that resulted in hazardous material releases and fires – including three already in 2015.