Wednesday, August 7, 2013

FRA-PHMSA Rail Safety Advisory Published in Federal Register

The joint safety advisory (SA) from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) that I described last week was published today in the Federal Register (78 FR 48224-48229). It addresses some of the safety issues that have been identified in the on-going investigation of the recent fatal derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada.

NOTE: The safety advisory uses an interesting spelling (?) of the city name that I haven’t seen before; “Lac-M[eacute]gantic”. I am not a French (or French-Canadian) speaker so I’m not sure what that is all about. I will continue to use the common American spelling that has made its way into the news media with appropriate apologies to any readers from Quebec.

Planned Meeting of the RSAC

The SA notes that an emergency meeting of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee will be called to discuss potential regulatory actions that the FRA might consider in light of this accident. A meeting notice will be published in the Federal Register.

The FRA intends to have the RSAC address the following issues:

• The formulation of a task statement regarding appropriate crew size for an RSAC working group to consider; and
• The appropriate types and quantities of hazardous materials that should preclude trains transporting such materials from being left unattended on main track and sidings.

Categorization of Hazardous Materials

One of the potential issues raised in this accident is the flammability of crude oil. Different sources and blends of crude oil have different flash points. This is reflected in the three different Packing Groups that may be used for the classification of crude oil as a Class 3 hazardous material. Those Packing Groups in-turn have an impact on what types of rail cars may be used to transport crude oil. This has potential safety implications if the crude oil has a lower flash point than reflected in the shipping paperwork and an improper rail car selection is made.

As a result, DOT is recommending that “offerors evaluate their processes for testing, classifying and packaging the crude oil that they offer into transportation via railroad tank car as required by Part 173 of the HMR.”

Review Security Plans

Current DOT regulations require that offerors of hazardous materials prepare (and keep on file) a security plan for the shipment of bulk quantities of hazardous materials. It is not clear that those plans take into account the potential for the unattended parking of trains carrying those rail cars on mainlines or mainline sidings outside of rail yards. DOT is recommending that “offerors and carriers of hazardous materials review their plans adopted in accordance with subpart I of part 172 [link added] of the HMR that govern the safety and security of the transportation of railroad tank cars containing hazardous materials. In particular DOT is recommending that the review address “whether their existing plans adequately address personnel security, unauthorized access, and en-route security”

Moving Forward

Given the severity of the accident and the potential eco-political implications of the cargo involved, I am sure that this is not the last of the regulatory (or potential legislative) actions that will result from this tragic event.

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