DOT agencies issue supplemental crude transport-by-rail advisory

Two US Department of Transportation agencies jointly issued a supplemental safety advisory covering unintended movement of freight trains carrying crude oil and other hazardous materials. The Nov. 20 advisory followed one the US Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) jointly issued on Aug. 7 after 42 people died when a crude-carrying freight train derailed and caught fire on July 6 in Lac Megantic, Que.

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the accident’s cause, the US agencies noted. But the extensive damage to Lac Megantic’s town center and the forced evacuation of 2,000 people, combined with increased rail transportation of crude oil and other Class 3 hazardous materials over several years, made clear the need to review existing regulations and industry practices, they said.

The new advisory also reinforces FRA’s Emergency Order No. 28, which also was issued Aug. 7, and federal hazardous materials regulatory requirements for safety and security plans, including a shipper’s proper characterization of a hazardous material’s characteristics.

“Proper characterization will identify properties that may not affect classification, but will affect the integrity of the packaging or present additional hazards, such as corrosivity, sulfur content and dissolved gas content,” the supplemental advisory said.

To aid in this process, it said it emphasizes key definitions from federal hazmat regulations covering the proper classification and packing group assignment for crude oil: namely the definitions of flash point, flammable liquid, combustible liquid, and packing group.

Identify locations

“EO 28 prohibits railroads from leaving trains or vehicles transporting certain types and quantities of hazardous materials unattended on a mainline track or a mainline siding outside of a yard or terminal, until the railroad develops, adopts, and complies with a plan that identifies specific locations and circumstances where the railroad has determined that such trains or vehicles may be safely left unattended,” the advisory continued.

It said the order requires hazmat-carrying railroads implement “securement plans” for any unattended train or vehicle transporting identified hazardous materials on a mainline track or siding outside of a yard or terminal.

“PHMSA and FRA are assessing regulated entities' compliance with the expectations outlined in the first joint advisory and this safety advisory to ensure the safe transportation of hazardous materials by rail,” the agencies said.

They noted that PHMSA recently initiated “Operation Classification,” a compliance investigation initiative involving unannounced inspections and testing by PHMSA and FRA to verify the material classification and packing group assignments selected and certified by crude oil shippers.

“In addition, PHMSA is accompanying FRA on audits to evaluate safety and security plans and to determine whether the plans address vulnerabilities highlighted in EO 28 and the first joint advisory,” they said. “FRA is also conducting additional inspections to determine compliance with EO 28.”

Contact Nick Snow at

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