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New Rules in the Works to Improve the Safety of Bulk Rail Transportation of Ethanol and Bakken Crude Oil

New Rules in the Works to Improve the Safety of Bulk Rail Transportation of Ethanol and Bakken Crude Oil

On July 23, 204 the US Department of Transportation announced two new rulemaking proposals – and a Report – issued by the PHMSA (the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, one of many administrations/bureaus within the USDOT).  It is meant to improve the safe transportation of large quantities of flammable materials by rail – particularly crude oil and ethanol.  The comprehensive rulemaking includes the following:

Bakken Crude Oil by Rail

Railroad Tank Cars of Bakken Crude Oil passing through Illinois

Each of the above components of this announcement are summarized below.

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM):

Under the NPRM, the PHMSA seeks comment on the following proposals:

  • A definition of a “high-hazard flammable train” (HHFT) as a train carrying 20 or more tank carloads of flammable liquids.  This would include both ethanol and crude oil (Bakken and others).
  • Develop and implement a written sampling and testing program – certified by the Shipper of the HazMat – for all mined gases and liquids.  This would include Bakken crude oil, but not ethanol.
  •  Carriers must perform a routing analysis for HHFTs (both Bakken crude and ethanol) that would consider twenty-seven (27!) safety and security factors and then select a route for the rail cargo based on the analysis.
  • Codify the May 2014 Emergency Order requiring the Carriers of more than one million gallons of Bakken crude by rail to notify appropriate State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs).
  • Speed restrictions for HHFTs (both Bakken crude and ethanol) that contain any tank cars not meeting the enhanced tank car standards proposed by this rule.
  • Require enhanced brake systems for all HHFTs (both Bakken crude and ethanol).
  • Require enhanced standards for both new and existing rail tank cars used to transport flammable liquids (both Bakken crude and ethanol) as part of a HHFT.

    Hurry!  All comments must be received by September 30th.

Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM):

Published concurrently with the NPRM, the ANPRM seeks to gain information via comments from interested parties regarding expanding oil spill response planning requirements for shipments of flammable liquids (Bakken crude, ethanol, and more) by rail.

Hurry!  All comments must be received by September 30th.

The Report:
Rail transportation of Bakken crude oil

Bakken Crude Oil Transported by Rail

Data collected from Operation Classification – a joint PHMSA and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) effort initiated early in 2014 and specific to Bakken  crude oil – has been summarized in a report issued along with the NPRM and ANPRM.  The findings of the report indicate that Bakken crude oil is more flammable and volatile than other crude oils.  The unexpectedly higher flammability and volatility of Bakken crude is believed to the cause of its initial misclassification; the use of improper packaging; and the resulting train derailments, fires, explosions, and deaths.  In addition to the Report, Operation Classification resulted in a more robust test method for analyzing Bakken crude.  This will likely form the basis for the written sampling and testing program referenced in the NPRM.

Anyone involved in the transportation by rail of flammable liquids – and particularly the transportation by rail of Bakken crude and/or ethanol – should carefully follow, and become involved in, these notices as they proceed through the rulemaking process.

Daniels Training Services




I can provide the training your employees need to properly classify, package, and ship any hazardous material by any means (air, rail, highway, or vessel).  Contact me for a free training consultation.