On July 23, 2014, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) detailing its proposed revisions to the Hazardous Materials Regulations to improve the safe transportation of large quantities of flammable liquids by rail. The changes primarily impact the transportation of crude oil and ethanol by train because these are the flammable liquids most frequently transported in high volumes. If adopted, the proposed rules could have far-reaching and costly implications for the U.S. fuel transportation industry and producers in regions served by rail tank car transport.

The NOPR is available for review here. Comments will be due 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.

High-Hazard Flammable Trains

The NOPR proposes to revise the existing regulations to include additional requirements for high-hazard flammable trains or “HHFTs.” An “HHFT” is a single train carrying 20 or more carloads of a Class 3 flammable liquid, which is a liquid that has a flash point of not more than 60.5°C (141°F), or any material in a liquid phase with a flash point at or above 37.8 °C (100 °F), including common fuels such as crude oil and ethanol.

New Tank Cars for High-Hazard Flammable Trains

The proposed regulations will require an enhanced design standard for new tank cars constructed after October 1, 2015 that are used to transport Class 3 flammable liquids in HHFTs. Tank cars built to the proposed new standard will be designated “DOT Specification 117.” Unless they are retrofitted to meet the DOT Specification 117 standards, existing DOT Specification 111 rail cars may not be used for HHFT service after October 1, 2017 (in the case of Packing Group I, which are materials posing “great danger”), October 1, 2018 (in the case of Packing Group II, which are materials posing “medium danger”), or October 1, 2020 (in the case of Packing Group III materials which pose “minor danger”).

PHMSA intends to adopt one of three proposed design options as DOT Specification 117 and requests comments on each option. At a minimum, each of the design options would require tank cars with a full-height head shield, an 11-gauge jacket, 100-minute thermal protection, a reclosing pressure relief valve, top fitting protection, a modified or removed bottom outlet handle, and minimum steel standards for the tank and jacket construction. A retrofitted tank car, however, would not be required to include top fitting protection.

Operating Speed Restrictions for High-Hazard Flammable Trains

The proposal would impose a 50-mph speed restriction on all HHFTs and a conditional 40-mph speed restriction unless all tank cars containing flammable liquids meet or exceed DOT Specification 117. All HHFTs also would be required to be equipped with alternative brake signal propagation systems.

Notification to State Energy Response Commissions of Crude Oil Train Transportation

The new rule would further require railroads to provide each State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) with notice if it transports one million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil in a single train. The notice would have to contain: (1) a reasonable estimate of the number of affected trains that are expected to travel, per week, through each county within the State; (2) the routes over which the affected trains will be transported; and (3) a description of the petroleum crude oil and certain emergency response information.

Rail Routing for High-Hazard Flammable Trains

The proposed regulations would expand routing analysis requirements to all HHFTs. Existing regulations require rail carriers transporting certain explosives, poisonous materials, and radioactive materials to engage in an extensive routing analysis that considers 27 safety and security factors. The carrier must then select the route posing the least overall safety and security risk.

Classification and Characterization of Crude Oil of Mined Liquids and Gases

Under existing regulations, it is the responsibility of the offeror (i.e., any person who sells or makes hazardous materials available or any person who performs any pre-transportation function with relation to a hazardous material) to properly “class and describe the hazardous material,” select the most appropriate shipping name, and certify that the material is offered for transportation in accordance with the current requirements. The classification and characterization of a hazardous material dictates what other requirements will apply to the shipment of the material, such as operational controls. PHMSA proposes to add a sampling and testing program for mined gas and liquids, such as petroleum crude oil, to ensure the proper characterization and classification of these materials. Every offeror would have to certify that it complied with the testing requirement and maintain documentation pertaining to the testing conducted.

Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

In a related rulemaking docket on July 23, 2014, PHMSA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments on potential revisions to the current regulations to expand oil spill response planning requirements to HHFTs based on the volume of crude petroleum transported. Comments will be due within 60 days after the publication of the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register.

The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is available for review here.