The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has reviewed the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) August 1, 2014, notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), Hazardous Materials: Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains. In this notice, PHMSA, in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), proposes new operational requirements and improved tank car standards for certain trains transporting large volumes of hazard class 3 flammable liquids. It also proposes revising the general requirements for offerors to ensure proper classification and characterization of mined gases and liquids. PHMSA notes that the proposed requirements are designed to reduce the frequency and consequences of accidents involving certain trains transporting large volumes of flammable liquids. The risks posed by such trains are illustrated in the catastrophic consequences of recent derailments at Casselton, North Dakota; Aliceville, Alabama; and Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada.
The NPRM also addresses Safety Recommendations R-14-4.
We are pleased that you are taking a broad systems approach in this NPRM?encompassing accident prevention, mitigation, and emergency response—toward managing the safety risks posed by high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs). PHMSA proposes to improve performance standards for existing tank cars and establish standards for new DOT specification 117 (DOT 117) and specification 117P (DOT-117P) tank cars. PHMSA also addresses classification and characterization of mined gases and liquids, requires rail routing risk assessment for HHFTs, requires notification to state emergency response commissions (SERC) of the operation of trains transporting 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil in their jurisdictions, and requires reduced operating speeds and enhanced braking.
The NTSB emphasizes the importance of implementing the six safety recommendations listed above as rapidly as possible. Furthermore, we are also concerned about several aspects of the proposed regulations:
1. The proposed requirements for notifying state agencies about rail shipments of hazardous materials through their territories do not include ethanol.
2. The proposed notification requirements are limited to shipments of crude oil from only one area (Bakken formation).
3. The proposed classification and characterization rules do not apply to all hazardous materials.
4. The proposed classification and characterization rules do not include specific requirements for the sampling and testing needed to properly characterize hazardous materials destined for rail shipment.
5. The proposed speed restrictions are based on a large populated area rather than on a potential impact radius where individuals could be harmed along flammable liquids rail corridors.
6. The proposed enhanced standards for new and existing tank cars offer options that do not achieve an acceptable level of safety and protection.
7. The proposed alternative tank car performance standards lack impact-resistance metrics.
8. The proposed retrofitting requirements for existing DOT-111 tank cars do not require top fittings protection.
9. The proposed bulk packaging standards would allow existing legacy DOT-111 fleet to remain in flammable liquid service on trains not designated as HHFTs.
Safety Recommendation R-14-4 urges PHMSA to include “key trains” carrying flammable liquids in its route-planning requirement. The recommendation refers to the definition of key train in AAR Circular No. OT-55-N, which lists 20 tank cars of any combination of hazardous material as the threshold number of tank cars in the consist. We believe that the proposed rule, if implemented, would satisfy the intent of Safety Recommendation R-14-4, which urges PHMSA to (1) expand the hazardous materials route planning and selection requirements for railroads under 49 CFR 172.820 to include key trains transporting flammable liquids, and (2) to require rerouting to avoid transporting hazardous materials through sensitive areas. You propose to expand current 49 CFR 172.820(a) by making it applicable to HHFTs. You also propose to create a new section, 49 CFR 174.310, which would subject HHFTs to the additional requirements in Part 172, Subpart I, for developing security plans for the transportation of hazardous materials.
Proposed 49 CFR 174.310(a)(1) would require rail carriers that operate HHFTs to analyze the safety and security risks along the routes where such trains operate, to assess alternate routing options, and to make routing decisions based on the assessments. Rail carriers would be required to conduct an annual analysis addressing 27 risk factors, such as volume of hazardous materials transported; track type, class, and maintenance schedule; track grade and curvature; environmentally sensitive or significant areas; population density along the route; emergency response capability along the route; and areas of high consequence along the route, as defined in 49 CFR 172.820(c). Carriers would also be required to identify alternate routes over which it has the authority to operate and to perform a safety and security risk assessment of those routes. Carriers would be required to use their risk analysis to select viable routes that pose the lowest overall safety and security risk.
In referring to the AAR circular, we intended to suggest using a preexisting industry standard for route planning, but not to endorse a 20-tank-car threshold for HHFTs. We caution you not to use Safety Recommendation R-14-4 to imply that we endorse a 20-tank-car threshold for any other purpose.
Question 3. To what extent do the covered hazardous materials, including crude oil and ethanol, have differing risks when they are in HHFTs?
As demonstrated in recent accidents, the two products have a similar potential for causing injuries, fires, energetic fireball eruptions, and property damage. Although the products behave differently in the environment and require different strategies for firefighting, containment, and cleanup, they pose similar hazards to property and persons, and should be treated similarly in the regulations. We believe that crude oil and ethanol should have identical packaging and operational requirements.
PHMSA also seeks comment on the definition of an HHFT. We believe the definition should include a broad range of hazardous materials, similar to the revised definition of a key train in AAR Circular No. OT–55–N. The circular’s reference to “any combination of hazardous material” includes hazard class 2, division 2.1 (flammable gas) materials and combustible liquids, as defined at 49 CFR 173.115(a) and 173.120(b). The provisions of the AAR circular demonstrate that the railroad industry recognizes that additional safety precautions, including speed restrictions, are needed for key trains that transport any hazardous materials. The proposed rule should be at least as protective as the AAR circular and should therefore apply to class 2 flammable gases such as liquefied petroleum gas.
We believe that the proposed rule, if implemented, would satisfy the intent of Safety Recommendation R-14-4, which urges PHMSA to (1) expand the hazardous materials route planning and selection requirements for railroads under 49 CFR 172.820 to include key trains transporting flammable liquids, and (2) to require rerouting to avoid transporting hazardous materials through sensitive areas. You propose to expand current 49 CFR 172.820(a) by making it applicable to HHFTs. You also propose to create a new section, 49 CFR 174.310, which would subject HHFTs to the additional requirements in Part 172, Subpart I, for developing security plans for the transportation of hazardous materials.
Proposed 49 CFR 174.310(a)(1) would require rail carriers that operate HHFTs to analyze the safety and security risks along the routes where such trains operate, to assess alternate routing op