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Volume XII, Number 334


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DOT Proposes Rules for Rail Transport of Flammable Materials: New Standards for Classification, Tank Cars, Emergency Preparedness

Following recent events highlighting the potential devastating effects of accidents involving rail transportation of flammable liquids, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released a pre-publication copy of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on July 23 designed to improve the safety of transporting such materials. The proposed regulations come more than a year after the derailment and explosion of a train carrying 72 tank cars, each filled with 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people. PHMSA will accept comments 60 days from the date of publication (not yet available) in the Federal Register. Given the extensive comments received on the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making (ANPRM), the agency has indicated it does not intend to extend the comment period.  

Classification and Characterization Requirements of Mined Liquids and Gases

Under the proposed regulations, all offerors and shippers would be required to implement a sampling and testing program for mined gases and liquids extracted from the earth (e.g., crude oil) to ensure their hazards are understood and accounted for in packaging and emergency preparedness. Offerors would be required to maintain documentation of the sampling and testing program, review their program annually, and make program documentation available to DOT upon request. The program would include:

  • Frequency of sampling to understand material variability;

  • Sampling of different points along the supply chain to understand changes during transportation;

  • Sampling methods that ensure samples representative of entire mixtures, as packaged;

  • Testing methods to ensure better analysis, classification, and characterization of materials;

  • Statistical justifications for sample frequencies;

  • Duplicate samples for quality assurance; and

  • Criteria for modifying sampling and testing programs.

Additional Operational Requirements for High-Hazard Flammable Trains

The proposed regulations would impose additional requirements for high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs), defined by the NPRM as trains carrying 20 or more tank carloads of a Class 3 flammable liquid. Specifically, all HHFT units constructed after October 1, 2015 must comply with DOT-117 tank car design requirements for tank cars, such as inclusion of thermal protection systems and tank car plate thickness requirements. The rule would phase out DOT-111 tank cars, the oldest tank cars in use, on the following schedule:

HHFT Class 3 Flammable Liquid Packing Group

DOT-111 Not Authorized After


October 1, 2017


October 1, 2018


October 1, 2020

Along with changes to tank car design specifications, operators of HHFTs would have to implement the following requirements:

  • Use of Risk Assessment in Route Selection: The proposed rule would apply rail routing requirements currently required of trains carrying certain volumes of Toxic-by-Inhalation (TIH) Chemicals, and other highly hazardous materials to HHFTs. Carriers would be required to apply 27 safety and security factors, including population density along routes, emergency response capability along the route, among others, in selecting a route for HHFTs.

  • Notification to SERCs: The rule would make permanent a May 2014 DOT emergency order requiring HHFTs carrying more than one million gallons of Bakken crude oil to notify State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) and other appropriate state officials about the operation of such trains through their states. Carriers would be required to report such information within 30 days of the effective date of the rule and to maintain documentation of notifications that could be made available to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) upon request.

  • Speed Limits and Enhanced Braking Requirements: HHFTs would be limited to 50 mph in all areas. PHMSA seeks comments on whether HHFTs that do not meet design specifications should be subject to 40 mph speed limit options in certain areas. The proposed regulations also would require HHFTs to be equipped with alternative brake propagation systems as an added safety precaution.

Other DOT Actions

Along with the NPRM, DOT issued a companion ANPRM seeking comment on the application of oil spill response planning to the shipment of flammable liquids as well as an Operation Safe Delivery Update report containing data collected from its staff and the FRA from August 2013 to May 2014. This report concludes that Bakken crude oil is more volatile and flammable compared to other crude oils. In a press release, DOT claims that it will continue to monitor the data through the fall of 2014.

© 2022 Beveridge & Diamond PC National Law Review, Volume IV, Number 213

About this Author

Elizabeth M. Richardson Environmental Liabilities Attorney Beveridge & Diamond Washington, DC

Beth works closely with clients to identify and limit environmental liabilities, effectively market their products, and manage their regulatory obligations.

Beth works with clients in the retail, consumer products, and electronics/IT sectors to bring their products to market, transport them globally, manage supply chains, and ensure appropriate handling of products at end-of-life. She co-chairs the firm’s Retail group and works with retail companies and trade associations to identify and overcome the challenges posed by the myriad of environmental regulations. Due to her experience...