Starting Oct. 1, 2015, tank cars that transport flammable liquids will have to be made stronger, among other new requirements, to help prevent accidents involving the transportation of crude oil, according to a notice of proposed rulemaking released Wednesday by the Department of Transportation.
The new regulations would require tank car manufacturers to build cars with puncture resistant materials, among other new features. DOT is requesting comments regarding whether to require 9/16-inch steel or 7/16-inch steel (as laid out in a 2011 industry standard) frames. It also wants to know if outfitting cars with rollover protected electronically-controlled pneumatic brakes is warranted.
In the rulemaking, cars currently carrying flammable liquids must be retrofitted; those that aren’t improved can either be operated “under speed restrictions” for five years or retired.
Other new requirements will include alternative brake signal systems, reduced operating speeds and a mandate that trains carrying more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude have to notify state officials before passing through said state. Before imposing a speed rule, DOT is requesting comments on whether a 40 miles-per-hour limit is fair across the board, only in “high-threat urban areas,” or cities with a population of more than 100,000.
Finally, DOT wants to require more exacting classification standards, compel railroads to perform “rail routing risk assesments,” and create a standard definition for high-hazard flammable trains — those trains that would have to follow the new rules — as trains transporting 20 or more carloads of flammable liquids.
“Safety is our top priority, which is why I’ve worked aggressively to improve the safe transport of crude oil and other hazardous materials since my first week in office,” DOT Secretary Foxx said in a statement. “While we have made unprecedented progress through voluntary agreements and emergency orders, today’s proposal represents our most significant progress yet in developing and enforcing new rules to ensure that all flammable liquids, including Bakken crude and ethanol, are transported safely.”
Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., expressed support for the proposed rule, but said that the rulemaking by itself won't fix the issue.
“The proposed rule released today by Secretary Foxx is certainly a step in the right direction, but there is still more work to be done, by both regulators and industry, to ensure that crude oil can be transported safely by rail through communities across the United States," she said in a statement. "I’m pleased that the proposed regulations address issues I outlined in the 2015 transportation spending bill, like enhanced rail tank car standards and improved classification of flammable liquids, that are much-needed steps to improve the safety of our rail system."
In June, the president of the American Railroads Association, Edward Hamberger, expressed his support of tougher tank-car regulations.
“Railroads are taking multiple steps to further increase the safety of transporting crude oil, but more can be done when it comes to the tank cars used to haul it,” he said at an industry event. “Railroads believe that federal tank car standards should be raised to ensure crude oil and other flammable liquids are moving in the safest car possible based on the product they are moving. The industry also wants the existing crude oil fleet upgraded through retrofits, or older cars to be phased out as quickly as possible.”