Today the DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration published a meeting announcement in the Federal Register (79 FR 9585) concerning a meeting of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) on March 6th, 2014. The RSAC meeting topics will include opening remarks from the FRA Administrator, and status reports will be provided by the Train Crew Size, Securement, Hazardous Material Issues, Fatigue Management, and Risk Reduction Working Groups.
At the August 29th, 2013 meeting of the RSAC three Working Groups were formed to look at issues related to the hazards associated with crude oil unit trains. At the time there had been only one catastrophic rail accident associated with those trains, the Lac-Megantic, Quebec derailment in July of 2013. Since then a number of similar accidents have raised the profile of this issue. The three new Working Groups are:
• The Hazardous Materials WG;
• The Securement WG; and
• The Crew Size WG
Only the first of these three Working Groups is addressing issues that were involved in the subsequent accidents. That WG was tasked [.PDF Download Link] with reporting on the following specific issues:
• If appropriate, develop recommended regulatory language identifying criteria reflecting the types and quantities of hazardous materials (e.g., number of cars or shipments in a train, classes or identification of materials, identification of residue or loads) which are recommended to be subject to any special handling requirements or operational controls, including requirements that may be recommended as a result of this task, or Task Nos. 13-03 [Securement Issues] or 13-05 [Crew Size Issues].
• If appropriate, develop recommended regulatory language for any special handling requirements and/or operational controls for trains or vehicles meeting the criteria identified as requiring special handling and/or operational controls as a result of this task. This may include the appropriate use of wayside defect detectors, after arrival orders and track authorities, as well as crew qualifications related to emergency response activities.
• If appropriate, develop a recommendation to expand the applicability of part 172 subpart I, to require rail transportation route analysis and security plans for trains or vehicles meeting the criteria identified as requiring special handling and/or operational controls as a result of this task.
• If appropriate, develop recommended regulatory language for the accurate, efficient, and proper frequency of hazardous material testing and classification of flammable liquids, including crude oil and ethanol prior to filling/loading of rail tank cars.
• If appropriate, develop recommended regulatory language for requirements of marking of tank cars, training of personnel, and information required on shipping papers, in addition to those contained in 49 CFR part 172, subparts D, H, and C, for trains or vehicles meeting the criteria identified as requiring special handling and/or operational controls as a result of this task.
The Hazardous Materials WG has met three times since it was formed last August, the latest meeting was on January 27th. No working group minutes or meeting notes are maintained on the RSAC web site so it is difficult to assess how far along the WG is with forming its recommendations. At the very least there will be status reports on the tasks listed above. It is not expected that the FRA will take any action on these tasks until there is a final report from the WG. That final report is due April 1st, 2014.
Interestingly there is no mention of the October 31, 2013 meeting of the RSAC on the RSAC web site. At that meeting there was a presentation made about the status of the Hazardous Materials Working Group efforts [.PDF Download Link]. Interestingly the Hazardous Material WG notified the RSAC at that meeting that they did not plan on reporting on the route risk analysis issues because of the complexity of the issue and the time constraints involved.