The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) late last week announced new and additional actions to address concerns identified in recent train accidents involving crude oil and ethanol shipped by rail.
The actions, announced with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), included one emergency order, two safety advisories and several "notices to industry" intended to further enhance the safe shipment of Class 3 flammable liquids, USDOT officials said in a press release.
Among the actions announced:
• The FRA is recommending that only the highest skilled inspectors conduct brake and mechanical inspections of trains transporting large quantities of flammable liquids, and that the industry lower the threshold for wayside detectors that measure wheel impacts.
• PHMSA issued a safety advisory reminding carriers and shippers of specific information about trains and cargo that must be made available to emergency responders immediately after an accident.
• FRA and PHMSA issued a joint safety advisory requesting specific information also be made readily available to investigators.
• FRA is requesting the Association of American Railroads (AAR) ask the industry to develop a formal process by which such information would be made available to emergency responders and investigators within 90 minutes of initial contact with an investigator.
• FRA submitted to the Federal Register a notice proposing to expand the information collected on certain required accident reports.
USDOT's emergency order requires that trains transporting large amounts of Class 3 flammable liquid through certain highly populated areas limit their speed to 40 mph or lower in "high threat urban areas." The order covers trains that contain 20 or more tank cars in a continuous block, or 35 or more loaded tank cars, of Class 3 flammable liquid; and at least one DOT-111 or CPC-1232 tank car loaded with Class 3 liquid.
"Taking the opportunity to review safety steps and to refresh information before moving forward is a standard safety practice in many industries and we expect the shipping and carrier industries to do the same," said Acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg.
The first priority is to prevent accidents from happening, added Acting PHMSA Administrator Tim Butters.
"But when accidents do occur, first responders need to have the right information quickly, so we are reminding carriers and shippers of their responsibility to have the required information readily available and up to date," Butters said.
Since 2013, 23 crude-related train accidents have happened in the United States, with the majority occurring without any crude oil being released. But in response to such accidents, the FRA and PHMSA have undertaken about two dozen actions to improve upon the safety of crude by rail.
In a prepared statement in response to the USDOT's actions, AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger said the industry shares the belief that safety is the top priority. He noted that 2014 was the safest year for train accidents in industry history, according to FRA data.
"The added federal directives build on the many practices and protocols the industry has applied for years for safely moving and handling hazardous materials by rail, including flammable liquids," said Hamberger, who noted that while some provisions are based on existing railroad practices, others are problematic.
For example, one of the agency’s advisories would have railroads provide customer information they don’t possess and customers are not required to provide.
"Overall, these federal provisions reflect the fact that moving crude by rail is a shared responsibility, involving a safety system of prevention, mitigation and response," Hamberger added. "Railroads, like all supply chain stakeholders, anxiously await the federal government’s final rules on tank cars, which directly addresses the heart of mitigation."
All documents are available here.
Continuing a cooperative effort to promote safety in the railroad industry, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers International Association (SMART) have jointly announced that legislation requiring at least two crew members on all freight trains in the U.S. has been introduced in the 114th Congress.
The Safe Freight Act (H.R. 1763), introduced by Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) April 13, would require two crew members – one certified locomotive engineer and one certified conductor – on all freight trains. The newly-introduced legislation mirrors H.R. 3040, which had more than 80 co-sponsors last year prior to conclusion of the 113th Congress. H.R. 1763 (http://utu.org/worksite/PDFs/HR_1763/HR_1763.pdf) has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
H.R. 1763 would require that “no freight train or light engine used in connection with the movement of freight may be operated unless it has a crew consisting of at least 2 individuals, one of whom is certified under regulations promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration as a locomotive engineer pursuant to section 20135, and the other of whom is certified under regulations promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration as a conductor pursuant to section 20163.”
The joint effort reflects heightened concerns over crew size arising from the July 6, 2013, derailment of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MM&A) oil train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people and destroyed the center of the town. The MM&A train was crewed by a single person. Since that time, there has also been movement by major freight railroads to seek collective bargaining agreements to allow for widespread use of one-person train operations.
“The BLET continues to oppose and condemn single-person freight operations as adverse to worker and public safety,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “All parties involved must understand that as things stand today, there are only two ways to end one-person train operations: federal laws or regulations that outlaw this dangerous practice, or collectively bargained contract language that requires two crew members on every train. We will continue to work to protect contractual language to defend two-person crews, and it also is our goal to protect the safety of railroad workers and the general public by advocating for passage of H.R. 1763.”
SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich said, “The SMART Transportation Division has always espoused that the safest rail operation is a two-person crew operation. With several major train derailments having occurred in the last few months, most notably the oil train derailment and explosion near Charleston, W. Va., in February, our lawmakers and the general public must understand that multi-person crews are essential to ensuring the safest rail operations possible in their communities. I would like to thank Congressman Don Young for his leadership on this critical rail safety issue. No one would permit an airliner to fly with just one pilot, even though it can fly itself. Trains, which cannot operate themselves, should be no different.”
Young is serving his 22nd term as Alaska’s only representative in the House and is a former Chairman of both the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (2001-2007) and the House Natural Resources Committee (1995-2001).
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