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FRA and PHMSA have been busy trying to make the transportation of crude and ethanol safer on an emergency basis, without going through the formal comment and review process. Last Friday the agencies issued a couple of new safety advisories and an emergency order dealing with crude oil trains. The DOT has been under considerable pressure to adopt new rules governing crude transport safety and has been receiving lots of criticism for not acting fast enough, particularly following the recent Galena accident.

The new PHMSA advisory reminds crude shippers of the obligation to provide emergency responder information along with the shipping papers of every railcar shipment of petroleum products, including an SDS sheet and the contact information for someone who will be available at all times during the shipment to answer questions and help with incidence mitigation in the event of an incident.

A new PHMSA and FRA safety advisory reminds railroads transporting “high hazard flammable trains” (20 or more tank cars of Class III flammable liquids in a continuous block, or 35 such cars, regardless of configuration) that, following an incident, they must cooperate with the inspecting agencies and provide information regarding the train consist, the commodity, any testing data and information regarding all parties who handled the product in the transit cycle. The new advisory suggests that this data must be provided within 90 minutes following an accident, which could be problematic for many carriers, especially when the product has passed through a number of hands before ultimately reaching the railroad.

FRA also issued an emergency order limiting train operating speeds to 40 mph in HTUA’s (high threat urban areas, as defined by the agency) for high hazard flammable trains. These restrictions were going to be part of the comprehensive tank car construction and operating rules that PHMSA and FRA were to announce in May. In light of recent accidents, the agencies felt it necessary to adopt this portion of the operating rule changes immediately, without waiting to include them along with comprehensive new tank car standards. The industry has raised significant concerns that this type of operating restriction will wreak havoc on the overall rail network and cause significant delays in transportation of all goods.

Finally, FRA adopted a new safety advisory regarding wheel inspections for these crude and ethanol tank cars. The advisory includes suggestions to replace wheels at much earlier points of showing signs of wear and to use only specially trained “designated inspectors” to perform pre-departure inspections, instead of using any available train crew as is now permitted under the rules if no designated inspector is available.

The rail industry will not be pleased with many of these new requirements. We will have to wait and see the agencies’ final word on new tank car regulations to find out whether the unhappiness will be equally shared by the petrochemical industry.

Links to the agency press release and the advisories and order are below:

Click here for an FRA press release “DOT Agencies Take Coordinated Actions to Increase the Safe Transportation of Energy Products”

Click here for the DOT advisory “Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration”

Click here for the DOT advisory regarding the FRA information requirements related to trains carrying specific volumes on flammable liquids

Click here for an additional DOT advisory regarding the FRA and flammable liquids

Click here for the DOT advisory regarding mechanical inspections and wheel impact load detector standards