Sunday, April 19, 2015

HR 1789 Introduced – DOT 111 Railcars

Last week Rep. Payne (D,NJ) introduced HR 1789, the Tank Car Safety and Security Act of 2015. The bill would require the publication of new regulations concerning the use of DOT-111 tank cars in flammable service.

Tank Car Design

New regulations on the DOT 111 railcars would be required to be published by the Secretary of Transportation within 1 year of adoption of this bill. Those regulations would need to:

∙ Revise the DOT 111 tank car design for new railcars that includes “outer steel jacket around the tank car and thermal protection, full-height head shields and high-flow capacity pressure relief valves” {§2(a)(1)}; and
∙ Require DOT 111 tank cars constructed before October 2011 to be upgraded, including “installation of high-flow-capacity relief valves and design modifications to prevent bottom outlets from opening in the case of an accident” {§2(a)(2)}.

The DOT Secretary would also be required, within 1 year of the adoption of this bill, to report to Congress on an ‘aggressive’ phase out plan for the older, un-modified DOT 111 tank cars used in flammable service.

Crude Oil Security

In a requirement that does not have anything to do specifically with DOT 111 railcars, the bill would require the Administrator of the TSA to publish new railroad security regulations that would deal with the in-transit storage of crude oil railcars. It would prohibit crude oil containing railcars from being “unattended during any period of time that such tank car is being transferred between railroad carriers or between a railroad carrier and a shipper” {§2(a)(3)}. There is no distinction made in the bill between cars containing crude oil and crude oil residue.

The only regulations that currently address preventing railcars from being unattended are the regulation of security sensitive hazardous materials at 49 CFR 1580.107. This bill does not suggest that the other requirements of those regulations, including the use of ‘rail secure areas’ and the documented inspections and transfer of railcars, would apply to crude oil railcars.

I am not sure where this concern with the security of crude oil railcars is coming from. I have heard nothing in the discussions of this issue that would indicate that there is any significant concern with security issues. I will admit that I have some minor concerns that these trains may become the target of the wacko fringe side of the environmentalist cause, but not enough to think that security regulations would be required.

Besides, providing security for a 100 car crude oil train, or even just a block of twenty such rail cars, is an entirely different proposition than the securing of a couple of chlorine railcars. The requirement for them not to be left unattended does not provide much of a security increase; a single person is not going to be able to adequately observe all of those railcars, much less react to a suspected incident in any reasonable fashion.

Moving Forward

This is the least aggressive bill introduced to date concerning the safety of crude oil transport and it is the most limited in scope. This may mean that given a serious push to have congress legislate on the issue during this term, this bill might receive the qualified support of railroads and crude oil shippers.

On the other hand, this bill will be hampered by the fact that it will have to be considered by two committees (the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Homeland Security Committee) before it comes to the floor of the House. Normally I would expect the problem to be in the Homeland Security Committee as they are not directly affected by the crude oil train situation, but Rep. Payne is a member of the Transportation Subcommittee there and may have enough pull to get at least subcommittee consideration of this bill.

Over all, I don’t think that this bill will move forward unless there is a crude oil train accident that really captures the attention of the public by either killing people or destroying something politically significant.

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