DOT rule includes new tank car standards, retrofit schedule

By Erin Voegele | May 04, 2015

The U.S. Department of Transportation has released a final rule unveiling a new enhanced tank car standard and risk-based retrofitting schedule for older tank cars carrying crude oil and ethanol. While certain tank cars in crude oil service must be retrofitted as soon as 2017, the initial retrofit requirements for tank cars carrying ethanol don’t begin until 2023.

The rule, developed by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and Federal Railroad Administration, in coordination with Canada, focuses on safety improvements that are designed to prevent accidents, mitigate consequences in the event of an accident, and support emergency response.

In addition to including a new tank car standard and retrofit schedule, the rule also requires a new braking standard for certain trains that is designed to offer superior safety by potentially reducing the severity of an accident and the “pipe-up effect.” It also designates new operational protocols for trains transporting large volumes of flammable liquids, such as routing requirements, speed restrictions, and information for local agencies. The rule also provides new sampling and testing requirements to improve classification of energy products placed into transport.

“Safety has been our top priority at every step in the process for finalizing this rule, which is a significant improvement over the current regulations and requirements and will make transporting flammable liquids safer,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “Our close collaboration with Canada on new tank car standards is recognition that the trains moving unprecedented amounts of crude by rail are not U.S. or Canadian tank cars—they are part of a North American fleet and a shared safety challenge.”

“This stronger, safer, more robust tank car will protect communities on both sides of our shared border,” said Canada’s Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt, “Through strong collaboration we have developed a harmonized solution for North America’s tank car fleet. I am hopeful that this kind of cooperation will be a model for future Canada-U.S. partnership on transportation issues.”

According to information released by the DOT, unless otherwise stated, the rule generally applies to high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs), defined as a continuous block of 20 or more tank cars loaded with flammable liquid, or 35 or more tank cars loaded with flammable liquid dispersed through a train.

The enhanced tank car standard contained in the rule requires new tank cars constructed after Oct. 1, 2015 to meet the new DOT Specification 117 design or performance criteria. “The prescribed car has a 9/16 inch tank shell, 11 gauge jacket, 1/2 inch full-height head shield, thermal protection, and improved pressure relief valves and bottom outlet valves,” said the DOT in a statement. “Existing tank cars must be retrofitted with the same key components based on a prescriptive, risk-based retrofit schedule (see table). As a result of the aggressive, risk-based approach, the final rule will require replacing the entire fleet of DOT-111 tank cars for Packing Group I, which covers most crude shipped by rail, within three years and all non-jacketed CPC-1232s, in the same service, within approximately five years.”

The U.S. retrofit schedule requires non-jacketed and jacketed DOT-111 tank cars in Packing Group II service to be retrofitted by May 1, 2023. PG II includes ethanol and some crude oils. The PG designation in based on flash point and initial boiling point. Non jacket CPC-1232 tank cars in PG II service must be retrofitted by July 1, 2023, while jacketed CPC-1232 tank cars in PG I and PG II service and all remaining PG III materials in an HHFT (pressure relief valve and valve handles) must be retrofitted by May 1, 2025. Non-jacketed DOT-111 tank cars in PG I service must be retrofitted by Jan. 1, 2018, and a Jan. 1, 2017 deadline would be set for shippers to report to the DOT the number of tank cars they own or lease that have been retrofitted, and the number that have not yet been retrofitted. Jacketed DOT-111 tank cars in PG I service would have to be retrofitted by March 1, 2018, with the retrofit deadline for non-jacketed CPC-1232 tank cars in PG I service set for April 1, 2020.

In Canada, the DOT indicates the retrofit deadline for non-jacketed DOT-111 tank cars in crude oil service is May 1, 2017, with a March 1, 2018 deadline set for jacketed DOT-111 tank cars in crude oil service. Non-jacketed CPC-1232 tanks cars in crude oil service must be retrofitted by April 1, 2020. Non jacketed and jacketed DOT-111 tanks cars in ethanol service must be retrofitted by May 1, 2023, with non-jacketed CPC-1232 tank cars in ethanol service retrofitted by July 1, 2023. In addition, jacketed CPC-1232 tank cars in crude and ethanol service and all remaining tank cars carrying PG III materials in an HHFT (pressure relief valve and valve handles) must be retrofitted by May 1, 2025.

The enhanced braking component of the rule requires HHFTs to have in place a functioning two-way end-of-train device or distributed power braking system. Trains meeting the definition of high-hazard flammable unit train (HHFUT)—which is defined as a train with 70 or more tank cars loaded with Class 3 flammable liquids—and includes at least one tank car with Packing Group I materials, must be operated with an electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking system by Jan. 21. Other HHFUTs must have ECP braking systems installed after 2023.

Regarding operating speeds, the rule restricts all HHFTs to 50 miles per hour (mph) in all areas. HHFTs containing any cars not meeting the enhanced tank car standards are restricted to operating speeds of 40 mph in high-threat urban areas. The rail routing component of the rule requires that railroads operating HHFTs must perform a routing analysis that considers a minimum of 27 safety and security factors and select a route based on its findings. In addition, the rule ensures that railroads provides state and/or regional fusion centers, and state, local and tribal officials with information related to the routing of hazardous materials through their jurisdictions. It also requires offers to develop and carry out sampling programs for unrefined petroleum products and to certify that hazardous materials subject to the program are packaged in accordance with the test results.

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, applauded the DOT for recognizing the difference between ethanol and oil and prioritizing oil train retrofits. “Based on an initial review of the final rule, the Department of Transportation should be commended for issuing a final rule that reflects public comments and takes a comprehensive approach to rail safety, including accident prevention, mitigation, and response. Secretary Foxx appears to have struck a fair balance in setting comprehensive standards while at the same time being sensitive to the limitation of retrofit capacity by giving less hazardous flammables—like ethanol—additional time to retrofit railcars,” he said.

“Last September, RFA highlighted a number of issues in our comments on the proposed rule that have been addressed today,” Dinneen continued. “We applaud the Department of Transportation for working to harmonize these regulations with Canada; for adopting a risk-based approach that prioritizes the most dangerous and highly-volatile flammables like crude oil while giving medium hazard liquids like ethanol additional time to come into compliance, for recognizing the limitations of the retrofit capacity, and, for establishing a regular reporting process for the retrofit schedule. The Department has also taken a very important step by requiring the petroleum industry to better identify and classify highly-volatile crude oil for shipment.”

“The U.S. ethanol industry is committed to the safe transport of our product and is proud of our safety record,” Dinneen said. “The additional requirements we face will be costly, but the additional time to comply is certainly welcome. Today’s final rulemaking is a huge step forward in rail safety and the Department of Transportation should be recognized for taking a practical and realistic approach.”

Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, has also spoken out in response to the rule. “Growth Energy and its members are absolutely committed to the safe delivery of our products to consumers throughout North America,” he said.  “Although we are pleased that this rule begins to acknowledge the difference between cars in ethanol and crude service, we are extremely disappointed that regulators are requiring extensive changes to the ethanol rail fleet, while seemingly ignoring the number one cause of these accidents—broken rails and poor track condition."

“With nearly 70 percent of ethanol transported by rail, today’s rule has a significant impact on the delivery of American-made ethanol,” Buis continued. “Growth Energy and the ethanol industry have been actively engaged in this process since the outset and provided extensive comments on the proposal last year. We will work to further understand the implications of today’s rule and its impact on the industry.”

Additional information on the rulemaking, including links to a summary and full final rule, is available on the DOT website