On July 23, 2014, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), acting through the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), issued a Notice for Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) related primarily to crude oil and ethanol units trains that qualify as “high-hazard flammable trains” (HHFTs). Under the proposal, an HHFT is defined as a single train carrying 20 or more carloads of a Class 3 flammable liquid.

Specifically, PHMSA is proposing new tank car standards, revising classification requirements for offerors and imposing new operational requirements, including speed restrictions, routing analyses and new enhanced braking requirements. Under the proposal, carriers will also have to notify a state’s emergency response commission when an HHFT train carrying 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil is traveling through that jurisdiction.

Comments on the proposed rules are due within 60 days of their publication in the Federal Register.

New Tank Car Specifications

PHMSA is seeking comments related to a newly proposed DOT 117 tank car that would need to reflect one of three possible options:

  • Option 1 – PHMSA/FRA Designed Tank Car
  • Option 2 – AAR 2014 Tank Car
  • Option 3 – Enhanced CPC 1232 Tank Car

The three options are summarized below:

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DOT 117(P) – Performance Standard and Retrofit

In addition to proposing a new DOT 117 tank car standard, PHMSA is proposing a DOT 117(P) tank car that need not comply with the new technical specifications as long as it meets specific performance standards. Retrofit tank cars will also have to comply with the performance standards as detailed above for the DOT 117(P) tank cars. However, PHMSA has determined that retrofitted tank cars will not be required to include top fitting protections because the cost is not supported by a safety benefit. PHMSA is seeking comments as to which portions of the existing tank car fleet could be retrofitted, repurposed or retired under each option listed above.

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Tank Car Timeline

The new DOT 117 standards will be required for new tank cars constructed after October 1, 2015, if they are used as part of an HHFT unit train. Shippers may phase out the use of the DOT 111 tank car depending on the Packing group classification of the crude oil being transported.

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Revised Classification Standards

PHMSA is also seeking comments on its proposal to require offerors to prepare a written sampling and testing program for what it calls mined gases and liquids, such as crude oil. PHMSA proposes this new program to ensure proper classification and characterization of crude oil. The proposed elements are as follows:

  • Frequency of sampling and testing
  • Sampling at various points along the supply chain to understand changes to the product during transportation
  • Sampling methods that will guarantee a representative sample
  • Testing methods to enable analysis, classification and characterization of the product
  • Statistical justification for sample frequencies
  • Redundant sampling to ensure quality

Additionally, PHMSA is proposing that offerors must make this information available to DOT upon request.

Operational Proposals

PHMSA is also seeking comments on its proposal of several items that will impact rail carriers. First, it proposes restricting the speed of crude oil unit trains with over 20 tank cars to 50 mph in all areas. PHMSA is requesting comment on whether it should require a 40 mph speed limit on HHFTs in all areas, in high-threat urban areas or in areas with a greater than 100,000 population. Additionally, PHMSA proposes requiring carriers to conduct a rail routing risk analysis and may require new braking technologies depending on the result of the new tank car standards.

Additional PHMSA Regulatory Actions

Oil Spill Response Plans

On July 23, 2014, PHMSA also released an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking comment on expanding the applicability of comprehensive oil spill response plans (OSRPs) to HHFTs. Comprehensive OSRPs are currently required under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act as amended by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 for owners or operators of vessels and onshore and offshore facilities containing greater than 42,000 gallons of oil per package. Because each tank car does not meet this threshold, comprehensive OSRPs have not applied to crude oil trains. Shippers and railroads might have basic OSRPs but this ANPRM seeks comment on the application of a comprehensive OSRP that includes five additional layers of requirements. PHMSA is seeking comments on various issues including what threshold should apply, i.e., 1 million gallons or more per train, HHFT of 20 carloads or more, 42,000 gallons per train or another threshold. Comments on the ANPRM are due within 60 days of its publication in the Federal Register.

Operation Classification Sampling Results

Finally, DOT also released an Operation Safe Delivery Update that provides the results of the crude oil samplings taken by PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Administration from August 2013 to May 2014. The report states that based on 135 samples, Bakken crude is a Class 3 flammable liquid of PG I or II, with predominance to PG I. Notably, the report says that the product “does not demonstrate the characteristics for a flammable gas, corrosive liquid or toxic material….” However, the report concludes that Bakken crude “is more volatile than most other types of crude” and has a “tendency to vaporize.”