In response to several recent high profile incidents involving crude by rail, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a comprehensive rulemaking proposal on July 23, 2014, related to improving the safe transportation of flammable materials, such as crude oil and ethanol.

The PHMSA's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) focuses on tank car standards, classification and testing of crude, and operational restrictions on trains carrying crude and ethanol, and specifically proposes, and seeks comments on: 

  • Three options for enhanced standards for rail cars constructed after October 1, 2015 (based on the thickness of steel and the absence or presence of electronically controlled pneumatic brakes and rollover protection), and the retrofitting or phase out of older cars for movement of certain flammable liquids including Bakken crude. 
  • A classification and testing program for mined gases and liquids. 
  • New operational requirements for the movement of high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs), which is defined as a train with 20 or more tank carloads of flammable liquids. These requirements include: (a) performing a safety/security routing analysis; (b) notifying State Emergency Response Commissions of trains containing more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude; (c) reducing operating speeds; and (d) equipping HHFTs with enhanced brake signal propagation systems;

The PHMSA's Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) seeks comments on possible new requirements for comprehensive oil spill response plans, including: 

  • The appropriate threshold that would trigger a requirement that the carrier develop a comprehensive oil spill response plan for HHFTs. 
  • The appropriate content for such plans. 
  • The estimated costs associated with such plans including plan development, acquisition of resources, and training. 
  • Who should receive copies of such plans.

Comments are due on both the NPRM and ANPRM 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.