DOT safety actions target transport of Class 3 flammable liquids

By Erin Voegele | April 20, 2015

On April 17, the U.S. Department of Transportation, along with its agencies the Federal Railroad Administration and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, announced a package of actions that aims to enhance the safe transportation of Class 3 flammable liquids, including ethanol and crude oil. The announcement includes one emergency order, and several safety advisories and notices to industry intended to further enhance the safe shipment of Class 3 flammable liquids.

“The boom in crude oil production, and transportation of that crude, poses a serious threat to public safety,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The measures we are announcing today are a result of lessons learned from recent accidents and are steps we are able to take today to improve safety. Our efforts in partnership with agencies throughout this administration show that this is more than a transportation issue, and we are not done yet.” 

The emergency order requires certain trains transporting large amounts of Class 3 flammable liquid through certain highly populated areas to adhere to a maximum authorized operating speed limit of 40 miles per hour. The emergency order applies to trains that contain 20 or more loaded tank cars in a continuous block or 35 or more loaded tank cars of Class 3 flammable liquid, and at least one DOT-111 tank car loaded with a Class 3 flammable liquid. The order is effective immediately and railroads are directed to complete implementation no later than April 24.

One safety advisory was issued by the FRA and PHMSA to remind railroads operating a high hazard flammable train (HHFT) and offerors of Class 3 flammable liquid s transported on such trains that certain information may be required by PHMSA and/or FRA personnel during the course of an investigation immediately following an accident. HHFT are defined as trains comprised of 20 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 3 flammable liquid in a continuous block, or a train with 35 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 3 flammable liquid across the entire train.

An additional safety advisory issued by the FRA aims to enhance the mechanical safety of the cars in trains transporting large quantities of flammable liquids. The advisory recommends that railroads use highly qualified individuals to conduct the brake and mechanical inspections and recommends a reduction to the impact threshold levels the industry currently uses for wayside detectors that measure wheel impacts to ensure the wheel integrity of tank cars in those trains.

In addition, a notice issued by the PHMSA reminds hazardous materials shippers and carriers of their responsibility to ensure that current, accurate and timely emergency response information is immediately available to emergency response officials for shipments of hazardous materials. Such information is to be maintained on a regular basis.

The FRA also issued a notice announcing its intent to modify certain information collection requirements. Over a projected five-year period, the FRA seeks to gather additional data concerning rail cars carrying crude oil in any train involved in an FRA-reportable accident. The new reporting requirement aims to help the FRA capture more specific information on accidents that involve trains transporting crude oil and provide FRA an opportunity to better address risks to railroad safety and the general public. Comments will be accepted for 60 days following the notice’s publication in the Federal Register.

Also on April 17, FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg sent a letter to Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, requesting that AAR and its member railroads voluntarily make an additional commitment to ensure that certain relevant information is made available to FRA and emergency responders immediately following a derailment of an HHFT. This includes information related to the lading, tank cars and trains involved in the derailment or accident. The letter indicates the information will help inform FRA’s response strategy and enable early evaluation of compliance by the entities associated with the offering and movement of materials and equipment involved in the incident. According to the letter, the FRA is hopeful this process can be in place within 30 days.

In a statement, the DOT noted these actions represent the latest in a series of more than two dozen that the department has initiated over the past 19 months to address the public safety threats trains carrying highly flammable liquids can represent.

Additional information is available on the DOT website