US, Canada announce new crude oil train safety rules

Times Union | May 1, 2015 | Post by Brian Nearing

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt today announced final rules agreed upon between the two countries meant to improve safety for the massive crude oil trains that are moving through each country, and occasionally derailing, exploding and catching fire.

According to the a DOT press release, the rules adopted by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) ” focuses on safety improvements that are designed to prevent accidents, mitigate consequences in the event of an accident, and support emergency response.”

Both Foxx and Raitt touted a new regulation that will phase in a new kind of braking system _ electronically controlled pneumatic brakes _ on such trains. Foxx said it will reducing the stopping distances for such trains, which can carry 100 or more tanker cars filled with crude oil.

However, the American Railroad Association has already come out against requiring such brakes, last September calling the equipment “costly systems not justified in terms of improved safety benefits, and could result in negative operational impacts on the network.”

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents oils companies that ship oil using the trains, also shot off an immediate press release, while the press conference will still under way, calling the brake rule “artificial constraints” that will conflict with a planned phase-out of older, less-sturdy oil tank car designs by 2020.

An advocacy group called the rules insufficient. According to a statement issued by Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen: “First, the rules allow the very same dangerous oil train cars that have been involved in the recent derailments and explosions to remain on the rails until 2020 in some cases. Second, the rules do nothing to lower the volatility of the crude oil being transported. That means the rule does little to minimize the magnitude of any explosion that occurs after an oil train derails and explodes. Requiring rail cars to become more puncture-resistant and have more effective braking systems is a necessary first step. But the directive does not fully safeguard communities from the threat of oil train infernos.”

According to the DOT press release, the new rules:

_ Unveils a new, enhanced tank car standard and an aggressive, risk-based retrofitting schedule for older tank cars carrying crude oil and ethanol;

_ Requires a new braking standard for certain trains that will offer a superior level of safety by potentially reducing the severity of an accident, and the “pile-up effect”;

_ Designates new operational protocols for trains transporting large volumes of flammable liquids, such as routing requirements, speed restrictions, and information for local government agencies; and

_ 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 Minister 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.”

Other federal agencies are also working to make transporting flammable liquids safer. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Energy (DOE), in coordination with the White House, are pursuing strategies to improve safety. DOE recently developed an initiative designed to research and characterize tight and conventional crude oils based on key chemical and physical properties, and to identify properties that may contribute to increased likelihood and/or severity of combustion events that can arise during handling and transport.

This final rule represents the latest, and most significant to date, in a series of nearly 30 actions that DOT has initiated over the last nineteen months, including additional emergency orders, safety advisories and other actions.


Additional information about the rule:

(Unless stated otherwise, the rule applies to “high-hazard flammable trains” (HHFTs)—a continuous block of 20 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid or 35 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid dispersed through a train.).

Enhanced Standards for New and Existing Tank Cars for use in an HHFT—New tank cars constructed after October 1, 2015, are required 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. 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.

Enhanced Braking to Mitigate Damage in Derailments—The rule requires HHFTs to have in place a functioning two-way end-of-train (EOT) device or a distributed power (DP) braking system. Trains meeting the definition of a “high-hazard flammable unit train,” or HHFUT (a single train with 70 or more tank cars loaded with Class 3 flammable liquids), with at least one tank car with Packing Group I materials, must be operated with an electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking system by January 1, 2021. All other HHFUTs must have ECP braking systems installed after 2023. This important, service-proven technology has been operated successfully for years in certain services in the United States, Australia, and elsewhere.

Reduced Operating Speeds—The rule restricts all HHFTs to 50 mph in all areas and HHFTs containing any tank cars not meeting the enhanced tank car standards required by this rule are restricted to operating at a 40 mph speed restriction in high-threat urban areas. The 40 mph restriction for HHFTs without new or retrofitted tank cars is also currently required under FRA’s Emergency Order No. 30.

Rail Routing – More Robust Risk Assessment—Railroads operating HHFTs must perform a routing analysis that considers, at a minimum, 27 safety and security factors, including “track type, class, and maintenance schedule” and “track grade and curvature,” and select a route based on its findings. These planning requirements are prescribed in 49 CFR §172.820.

Rail Routing – Improves Information Sharing—Ensures that railroads provide State and/or regional fusion centers, and State, local and tribal officials with a railroad point of contact for information related to the routing of hazardous materials through their jurisdictions. This replaces the proposed requirement for railroads to notify State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) or other appropriate state-designated entities about the operation of these trains through their States.

More Accurate Classification of Unrefined Petroleum-Based Products—Offerors must develop and carry out sampling and testing programs for all unrefined petroleum-based products, such as crude oil, to address the criteria and frequency of sampling to improve and ensure accuracy. Offerors must certify that hazardous materials subject to the program are packaged in accordance with the test results, document the testing and sampling program outcomes, and make that information available to DOT personnel upon request.

The actions taken today address several recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board, including: requiring enhanced safety features for tank cars carrying ethanol and crude oil and an aggressive schedule to replace or retrofit existing tank cars; requiring thermal protection and high-capacity pressure relieve valves for tank cars in flammable liquid service, expanding hazardous materials route planning and selection requirements for trains transporting flammable liquids; inspecting shippers to ensure crude oil is properly classified and requiring shippers to sufficiently test and document both physical and chemical characteristics of hazardous materials; and providing a vehicle for reporting the number of cars retrofitted.

UPDATE: A coalition of environmental groups fired off their own press release, also criticizing the rules as inadequate.

Here it is:

Citizens groups Earthjustice, ForestEthics, Oil Change International, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper, Washington Environmental Council and Natural Resources Defense Council issued a critical assessment of the new rules with statements below:

The new standards call for a phase out over 10 years of DOT-111 and CPC-1232 tank cars commonly used to transport crude oil and known to puncture and explode during derailments. These are the same tank cars that were involved in the steady stream of catastrophic accidents over the last two years, including the Lac Mégantic, Quebec tragedy in July 2013 that killed 47 people and the most recent spate of four major fiery accidents over four weeks of 2015 in West Virginia, Illinois, and Ontario.

The groups continue to call for an immediate ban on these cars, citing the federal agencies’ own projections that 15 derailments on mainlines are likely every year. DOT’s phase-out period allows the crude oil fleet to more than double before these tank cars are taken out of service, knowingly exposing communities daily to unacceptable risks.

The groups initial analysis identified several specific failures that leave the public at severe risk from oil trains:

• The rule fails to remove the most dangerous tank cars off US rails immediately, allowing instead for a 2-1/2 to 5 year phase-out of the oldest DOT-111s, and a phase out that will take a decade for all dangerous tank cars;

• Even after this phase out, the hazardous tank cars will still be allowed to ship explosive crude oil in a continuous block of 19 tank cars or fewer than 35 loaded tank cars in a train;

• Despite requiring somewhat thicker shells for new cars, DOT will allow retrofitted cars to meet a less protective standard. While the rule imposes some speed limits for trains in “high threat urban areas,” only a few dozen cities around the nation have been so designated – leaving towns, cities, and drinking water sources highly vulnerable;

• Despite requiring somewhat thicker shells for new cars, DOT will allow retrofitted cars to meet a less protective standard;

• Inadequate speed limits allow oil trains to run at speeds well beyond the safe limits of even the newer tank cars.

“Allowing hazardous tank cars to remain in crude service for 5 more years is disgraceful,” said Patti Goldman, Earthjustice managing attorney. “As the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said two years ago, the DOT shouldn’t need a higher body count before we ban these defective cars from carrying explosive fuel through our towns and cities.”

“These regulations arrive years late and with the sticky fingerprints of an army of oil lobbyists all over them,” says Matt Krogh, ForestEthics Extreme Oil Campaign Director. “25 million Americans live in the oil train blast zone and millions more depend on drinking water that is threatened by an oil train disaster. We don’t need extreme tar sands and Bakken crude and these trains are simply too dangerous for American tracks.”

“The announced regulations are yet another indication of how dangerous energy policies written by and for Big Oil are for our communities and our climate. These weak regulations allow the industry to continue endangering communities with bomb trains that facilitate hazardous expansion of the oil industry,” said David Turnbull, Campaigns Director of Oil Change International. “It’s time for some leadership at the Department of Transportation. Secretary Foxx must place a moratorium on this dangerous practice now.”

“The Department of Transportation got it wrong with its so-called safety regulations for oil tank cars. Rather than accept these wholly inadequate rules, which jeopardize health and safety of communities along rail lines, the administration should place a moratorium on bomb trains outright,” said Lena Moffitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Dirty Fuels Campaign. “For years the National Transportation Safety Board has called on the agency to take aggressive action to end the use of arcane tank cars, and communities and elected officials across the country are demanding aggressive action to eliminate the risk to 25 million Americans located in the blast zone. Today, DOT has failed the American public. Until meaningful safety benefits are put in place, communities across the country should not be exposed to volatile crude trains.”

“These industry friendly regulations virtually guarantee more explosive derailments, putting people and the environment at great risk,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species. “Continuing to allow volatile crude oil to be transported in unsafe tank cars and at speeds that virtually ensure punctures, spills and fires in a derailment is unconscionable. Oil trains should be stopped because of the inherent dangers to the public and wildlife, and their role in climate disruption.”

“Beyond the clear shortcomings of the rule’s speed limit, design, and phase-out provisions, this rule completely fails to address a host of problems in dire need of attention,” said Sean Dixon, Staff Attorney at Riverkeeper, the Hudson River and New York’s clean water advocate. “The agency concedes that human error, rail and bridge infrastructure programs, oversight gaps, and outdated spill response planning regulations all contribute directly to the danger posed by ethanol and crude shipments by rail, yet today’s rule fails to even identify a framework for addressing these concerns in the future.”

“The disappointing new regulations do not mitigate the known threat that oil trains present to our waterways and the communities that depend upon them,” said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “Oil trains derail, spill, and explode with frightening regularity, all while passing along and over ourwaterways. It’s time for the federal government to defend and protect our communities and waterways with the same vigor they have shown in promoting the fossil fuel and transportation industries.”

“While it’s important that the Department of Transportation is recognizing this serious and growing problem, its proposed rules do not do nearly enough to protect millions of Americans at risk of catastrophic oil train derailments,” said Anthony Swift, Deputy Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Canada Project.

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PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.