By Ilana R. Morady and Craig B. Simonsen

Oil Tanker Train CarsThe U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) yesterday released details of a “comprehensive rulemaking proposal to improve the safe transportation of large quantities of flammable materials by rail – particularly crude oil and ethanol.”

According to DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx “safety is our top priority, which is why I’ve worked aggressively to improve the safe transport of crude oil and other hazardous materials…. While we have made unprecedented progress through voluntary agreements and emergency orders, [this] proposal represents our most significant progress yet in developing and enforcing new rules to ensure that all flammable liquids … are transported safely.”

The statistics are stunning. Secretary Foxx related in a blog that “in 2008, producers shipped 9,500 rail-carloads of oil in the U.S.; by just last year, that number skyrocketed to 415,000 rail-carloads — a jump of more than 4,300 percent. Emphasis added.

The DOT rulemaking includes a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM). According to the Department, the NPRM is based on an ANPRM published by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) last September, and it reflects feedback from more than 152,000 commenters. 78 Fed. Reg. 54849 (September 6, 2013).

The NPRM proposes enhanced tank car standards, a classification and testing program for mined gases and liquids, and new operational requirements for high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT) that include braking controls and speed restrictions. HHFT is defined as a train carrying 20 or more tank carloads of flammable liquids. Specifically, within two years, the rule proposes to phase out the use of older “DOT 111 tank cars” for the shipment of packing group I flammable liquids, unless the tank cars are retrofitted to comply with new tank car design standards.

PHMSA is requesting comments on three options for the enhanced tank car standard requirements:

  1. Tank car option 1 would have 9/16 inch steel, would be outfitted with electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes and would be equipped with rollover protection.
  2. Tank car option 2 would also have 9/16 inch steel but would not require ECP brakes or rollover protection.
  3. Tank car option 3 is based on a 2011 industry standard and has 7/16 inch steel, and does not require ECP brakes or rollover protection.

In addition, the rule proposes new requirements for “rail routing risk assessments.” Under the proposal carriers would be required to perform a routing analysis for HHFT that would consider 27 safety and security factors, and select a route based on findings of the route analysis. The proposal also requests comments on three speed restriction options for HHFTs that contain any tank cars not meeting the enhanced tank car standards proposed under the rule. Also proposed are requirements that all HHFTs be equipped with alternative brake signal propagation systems.

The ANPRM seeks further information on expanding comprehensive oil spill response planning requirements for shipments of flammable materials. Once the NPRM and ANPRM are available in the Federal Register the Department will allow 60 days of public comment. “Given the urgency of the safety issues addressed in these proposals, PHMSA does not intend to extend the comment period.”