DOT Order Limits Speed of Crude Oil Trains

Two safety advisories list the types of information carriers and shippers must make available immediately to emergency responders and to investigators at an accident scene.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and two of its agencies, the Federal Railroad Administration and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, took action April 17 to increase the safety of crude oil trains as they travel through High Threat Urban Areas. An new Emergency Order sets a 40 mph maximum authorized operating speed limit for trains transporting large amounts of Class 3 flammable liquid through certain highly populated areas; the order applies to any train that contains: 1) 20 or more loaded tank cars in a continuous block, or 35 or more loaded tank cars, of Class 3 flammable liquid; and, 2) at least one DOT-111 tank car (including those built in accordance with Association of American Railroads Casualty Prevention Circular 1232 loaded with a Class 3 flammable liquid.

"These are important, common-sense steps that will protect railroad employees and residents of communities along rail lines. 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.

DOT's announcement said the volume of crude oil being shipped by rail increased exponentially in recent years, and the number of significant accidents involving trains carrying ethanol or crude oil is unprecedented. "The boom in crude oil production, and transportation of that crude, poses a serious threat to public safety," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "The measures we are announcing today are a result of lessons learned from recent accidents and are steps we are able to take today to improve safety. Our efforts in partnership with agencies throughout this administration show that this is more than a transportation issue, and we are not done yet."

In addition, DOT said recent accidents showed that certain critical information about the train and its cargo needs to be immediately available for use by emergency responders or federal investigators who arrive on scene shortly after an incident, so PHMSA is issuing a safety advisory reminding carriers and shippers of the specific types of information they must make available immediately to emergency responders, and FRA and PHMSA issued a joint safety advisory requesting that specific information be made readily available to investigators.

Information required by PHMSA's advisory is:

  • Basic description and technical name of the hazardous material that is immediate hazardous to health
  • Risks of fire or explosion
  • Immediate precautions to be taken in the event of an accident
  • Immediate methods for handling fires
  • Initial methods for handling spills or leaks in the absence of fire
  • Preliminary first aid measures
  • A 24-hour telephone number for immediate access to product information

All of the documents are available here.

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