Saturday, April 18, 2015

DOT Takes Additional Actions on Crude Oil Trains – FRA EO 30

This is part of a detailed look at several actions that the Department of Transportation (DOT) took on Friday to reduce the hazards associated with the transport of crude oil and other flammable liquids by train. Earlier posts in this discussion include:

This post will look at the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) emergency order concerning the maximum speed in selected urban areas for certain trains transporting large quantities of Class 3 flammable liquids.

Affected Trains

EO 30 will specifically apply to trains containing a continuous block of 20 tank cars or a total of 35 tank cars carrying Class 3 flammable liquids. At least one of the tank cars must be DOT 111 (including those built to the CPC 1232 standards).

This definition of affected trains was apparently designed to address criticism of the 20 tank car standard included in HHFT NPRM could apply to trains carrying single cars of flammable liquids from 20 different shippers, hardly the intent. The hazard for flammable liquids in rail car derailments is that the failure of containment from a single car could result in a pool fire that would cause the catastrophic failure of adjacent cars, compounding the disaster.

One could certainly make an argument for a smaller block of cars. Even a block of two cars raises the potential hazard for secondary involvement. But given the fact that very few derailments involve even the majority of cars in an affected train some number of train cars above two in a block would provide adequate protection against secondary involvement. It would be nice, however, for PHMSA to outline in detail how the number 20 was arrived at.

High-Threat Urban Areas

This Emergency Order would only affect the speed limit for trains transiting high-threat urban areas (HTUA) as defined in 49 CFR 1580.3. That definition from the rail transportation security regulations describes an HTUA as “an area comprising one or more cities and surrounding areas including a 10-mile buffer zone, as listed in appendix A [link added] to this part.” Maps of each of the current 46 HTUAs are currently available on the Transportation Security Administration web site.

A quick look at the Los Angeles, CA HTUA for instance shows that there are large urban populations and highly concentrated suburban populations outside of the designated HTUA. Given that there are only 46 designated HTUAs in the United States, it is easy to see that there are significant number of large urban areas that are not covered by this EO.

Speed Limit

The EO sets a maximum speed limit of 40 mph for affected trains in HTUAs. This is the same speed limit for HTUAs that was included as one of the three options for specific reduced speed limits in the HHFT NPRM. The other two options provided in the NPRM also set a 40 mph speed limit, but provided a different standard for the application of that limit. The first was to apply the limit to all HHFT trains carrying DOT 111 rail cars in flammable liquid service and the other was to define the area for the speed limit so as to include all areas with a census population greater than 100,000.

Effective Date

The effective date for this emergency order was listed as immediately (presumably yesterday’s date; 4-17-15) and the compliance date for the speed limits is April 24th, 2015. I expect that we will see this EO published in the Federal Register next week, but that should not affect the effective date nor the compliance date.

HHFT Final Rule Insight

I would assume that the differences between this Emergency Order and the earlier HHFT NPRM reflect responses to comments to that NPRM. That should mean that the definition of HHFT in the final rule will probably be the same as outlined in this Order. Similarly, I would expect that the speed limits area definition here will be reflected in the final HHFT rule.

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