The transportation in commerce of a hazardous material by rail may involve a variety of bulk and non-bulk packagings. One common bulk packaging for the transport of HazMat by rail is the tank car. Whatever the packaging, the transport of HazMat by rail is subject to a variety of modal-specific or packaging-specific requirements within the Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR) of the PHMSA/USDOT, including:
- 49 CFR 174 – Carriage by rail
- §173.10 – Tank car shipments
- §173.31 – Use of tank cars
The purpose of this article is to identify and explain one small part of 49 CFR 173.31: The requirements for tank car loading and unloading at §173.31(g).
The regulations of §173.31(g) apply to the loading, unloading, and transloading of a hazardous material to or from a tank car. From §171.8:
Rail car means a car designed to carry freight or non-passenger personnel by rail, and includes a box car, flat car, gondola car, hopper car, tank car, and occupied caboose.
Tank car is not defined by the HMR, but from the definition above, you can see that it is a type of rail car.
Transloading means the transfer of a hazardous material by any person from one bulk packaging to another bulk packaging, from a bulk packaging to a non-bulk packaging, or from a non-bulk packaging to a bulk packaging for the purpose of continuing the movement of the hazardous material in commerce.
Transloading is the loading or unloading (i.e. “transfer”) from or to any bulk packaging – this includes a tank car but also a cargo tank, portable tank, IBC, and more – for the purpose of continuing the transportation of the HazMat. Transloading, then may include the loading and unloading of tank cars. The transfer of a HazMat to or from a fixed storage tank does not meet the definition of transloading and therefore is not subject to §174.67. It would, however, remain subject to §173.31(g). [LOI 07-0136]
Note: Regulations applicable solely to transloading are at §174.67 of the HMR. Though very similar to the requirements of §173.31(g), it contains additional requirements applicable solely to transloading that will not be addressed in this article.
The requirements of §173.31(g) apply solely to the tank car to be loaded or unloaded. It is not applicable to the equipment used to load or unload the tank car nor the packaging or fixed storage tanks the HazMat will be loaded or unloaded to or from. The regulations of other agencies (e.g. OSHA, EPA) may apply to the storage tanks, piping, and other support equipment used during tank car loading and unloading, but not those of §173.31(g).
The measures prescribed by §173.31(g) must be taken when the tank car is placed for loading or unloading and, “before unsecuring any closure…” So, before the first cap is unscrewed, before the first hatch is released, the following measures must be taken.
Question: At what point does §173.31(g) actually become effective? When physical unloading of the car actually begins or when the car is placed at the unloading site, regardless if unloading doesn’t take place until days later? Answer: Once the tank car is accepted by the consignor or consignee (which could also be considered placement for loading or unloading). [LOI 13-0055] Question: Who is responsible for for taking the measures required by §173.31(g)? The shipper? The carrier? Answer: Once the tank car is accepted by the consignor or consignee, they (the consignor or consignee) must implement the measures required by §173.31(g). [LOI 13-0055]
Question: Do the regulations of §173.31(g) apply after the rail carrier has departed the property?
Answer: Yes. [LOI 05-0014]
Contact me with any questions you may have about the transportation of hazardous materials by air, highway, vessel, or rail
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Secure Access to the Track
- The goal of this measure is to prevent entry to the track by other rail equipment during loading or unloading. This includes motorized service vehicles.
- It consists of a physical barrier to prevent access to the track.
- The action is to be taken by the HazMat Employee(s) responsible for the loading or unloading. Read here: What is a HazMat Employee?
- The HMR does not specify the action that must be taken to achieve the goal of this measure. However, equipment that may be used to satisfy this requirement include:
- Lined and locked switches
- Portable bumper blocks
- Other equipment that provides an equivalent level of security.
Question: Must the measures of §173.31(g)(1) be taken between the tank cards of separate entities within a single transloading area?
Answer: No. The requirements of §173.31(g)(1) are to prevent access to the track. There is no additional requirement to further isolate tank cars within a transloading facility. [LOI 14-0206]
- The goal of this measure is to warn persons who may approach the tank cars by way of the track during loading or unloading.
- The sign(s) must be displayed on the track or on the tank car(s).
- Sign(s) must be directed toward the open end of the track.
- Sign(s) must be displayed until all of the following has occurred:
- After the loading or unloading is complete.
- All closures are closed and secured; “tool tight” per §173.1(d)(2).
- Cars are in proper condition for transport.
- §173.31(g)(2) does not specify a required number of signs to display in order to comply. Reference is made to “caution signs” and not “caution sign”, so it could be assumed that more than one sign is necessary. I think the number of signs used will be determined by how many are necessary to meet the goal of this measure.
- The caution sign(s) must be:
- Metal or other durable material.
- Minimum dimensions of 30.48 cm (12 inches) high and 38.10 cm (15 inches) wide.
- Bear the word “STOP” in letters at least 10.16 cm (4 inches) high.
- Letters must be white on a blue background.
- Additional words such as, “Tank Car Connected” or “Crew at Work” may also appear under “STOP”. There is no specification of the size of the letters for these words, if displayed.
Question: Does compliance with the signage regulations in §174.67(a)(4) for transloading fulfill the requirements of §173.31(g)(2)?
Answer: Yes. [LOI 06-0198]
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Block and Brace the Tank Car
- The goal of this measure is to prevent the movement of the tank car in both directions.
- If only one tank car, block at least one wheel against movement in both directions and set the hand brakes.
- If multiple tank cars, coupled together, then sufficient hand brakes must be set and wheels blocked to prevent movement in both directions. Note the use of the word “sufficient”. It is the responsibility of the person loading or unloading the tank car to determine what is sufficient to prevent movement in both directions.
The requirements of 49 CFR 173.31(g) can be summed up as follows:
- Install a physical barrier to prevent access to the track by rail equipment.
- Display caution sign(s) to warn persons who may approach from the open end of the track.
- Secure the tank car to prevent movement in both directions.
Is there more to the requirements for shipping hazardous materials in rail cars? You bet there are! Other requirements related to the loading or unloading of hazardous materials in tank cars include but are not limited to:
- May not fill and ship a tank car that is overdue for its periodic inspection. [§173.31(a)(3)]
- Must conduct an external visual inspection of the tank car before offering for transportation. [§173.31(d)(1)]
- There are special requirements for the tank cars used to ship certain hazardous substances. [§173.31(f)(2)]
Please contact me if you have any questions about the transportation of hazardous materials by any mode and in any packaging.
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