FRA to propose requiring two-member crews on trains carrying crude

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) plans to propose requiring trains transporting crude oil to have at least two crew members, the US Department of Transportation agency announced. It said it also intends to propose a train securement rule and recommend a rulemaking on hazardous materials movement.

The Apr. 9 announcement followed deliberations of three working groups created at DOT’s request following the July 6 derailment of an unmanned train carrying crude and subsequent explosion and fires which killed 47 people and extensively destroyed property at Lac Megantic, Que. (OGJ Online, July 8, 2013).

Two of the working groups produced recommendations that were adopted by the full Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) for consideration in future rulemakings, it said. After the third working group didn’t reach a consensus on crew size, FRA said it acted to move forward with a rulemaking.

“Safety dictates that you never allow a single point of failure,” FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo said. “Ensuring that trains are adequately staffed for the type of service operated is critically important to ensure safety redundancy. We commend the RSAC’s efforts and will use the valuable input received to formulate a proposed rule that protects the public and recognizes the nuance of railroad operations.”

The agency noted that while existing FRA regulations do not mandate minimum crew staffing requirements, current industry practice is to have two-person crews for over-the-road operations. It said the notice of proposed rulemaking will most likely require a minimum two-person crew for most mainline train operations including those carrying crude. It is also expected to include appropriate exceptions, FRA said.

Additional proposals

FRA said it plans to propose an additional requirement prohibiting certain unattended freight trains or standing freight cars on main track or sidings, and requiring railroads to adopt and implement procedures to verify securement of trains and unattended equipment for emergency responders.

Locomotive cabs also would have to be locked and reversers removed and secured, FRA said. Railroads also would be required to obtain advance approval from the agency for locations or circumstances where unattended cars or equipment may be left, it indicated.

The full RSAC also approved four recommendations by the Hazardous Materials Issues Working Group relating to identification, classification, operational control and handling of certain shipments. The recommendations, directed to the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), include amending or revising the definitions of “residue” and “key train,” and clarifying its regulatory jurisdiction over the loading, unloading and storage of hazmat before and during transportation.

PHMSA continues to advance a rulemaking addressing the integrity of DOT Specification 111 tanker cars and the safe shipment by rail of flammable materials such as crude oil, FRA noted.

An American Petroleum Institute applauded FRA’s announcement. “The multipronged approach that must be taken to enhance rail safety and crude oil transportation incorporates prevention, mitigation and emergency response,” noted API Downstream Director Bob Greco.

“Ensuring trains are adequately staffed and implementing technologies like positive train control could improve safety by preventing accidents before they happen,” he continued. “The oil and gas industry will continue to work closely with the railroad industry and regulators to address safety needs in a comprehensive way.”

Contact Nick Snow at

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