Comment period opens on PHMSA rail transportation safety proposal

By Erin Voegele | August 05, 2014

The public comment period on a proposed rule that aims to improve the safety of rail transportation of flammable materials, particularly crude oil and ethanol, is now open. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration published its proposal in the Federal Register on Aug. 1, officially opening the 60-day public comment period. A prepublication version of the proposed rule was released on July 23.

The proposed rule aims to enhance tank car standards, develop a classification and testing program for mined gases and liquids, and enact new operational requirements for high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT) that include braking controls and speed reductions.

One provision of the proposed rule would require the phase out of old DOT-111 tank cars for the shipment of package group I flammable liquids within two years. In addition, enhanced standards would be set for both new and existing tank cars.

The rulemaking also proposes to define the term HHFT as a train carrying 20 or more tank carloads of flammable liquids. Carriers would be required to perform a routing analysis for HHFTs that would consider 27 safety and security factors and select a rout based on findings of that analysis. HHFTs would also be subject to speed restrictions of no more than 50 miles per hour (mph) in all areas. Within the rule, the PHMSA asks for comments on whether or not NNFTs that contain any tank cars not meeting certain enhanced tank car standards should be subject to a 40 mph restriction in all areas, only in high-threat urban areas, or in areas with a population of more than 100,000. Comments are also requested on several other provisions of the proposed rule, including whether a 30 mph restriction should be placed on HHFTs that do not comply with enhanced braking requirements. Those requirements would include a provision that all HHFTs be equipped with alternative break signal propagation systems.

The 60-day comment period on the proposed rule is set to end on Sept. 30. In June, the PHMSA indicated it does not intend to extend the comment period due to the urgency of the safety issues addressed in the proposed rule. A full copy of the proposed rule is available on the Federal Register website. Comments can be submitted online via the website under Docket ID PHMSA-2012-0082-0180 , or by fax, mail or hand delivery. Additional information on how to comment is available on the website