DOT denies appeals of high-hazard trains rule

Published: November 12, 2015

PHMSAOn May 8, 2015, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), published a final rule entitled, “Hazardous Materials: Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains,” which adopted requirements designed to reduce the consequences and, in some instances, reduce the probability of accidents involving trains transporting large quantities of Class 3 flammable liquids.

The Hazardous Materials Regulations provide a person the opportunity to appeal a PHMSA action, including a final rule. PHMSA received six appeals regarding the final rule, one of which was withdrawn.

The five remaining appeals were submitted by the Dangerous Goods Advisory Council (DGAC), American Chemistry Council (ACC), Association of American Railroads (AAR), American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), and jointly the Umatilla, Yakama, Warm Springs, and Nez Perce tribes (Columbia River Treaty Tribes) and the Quinault Indian Nation (Northwest Treaty Tribes).

Dangerous Goods Advisory Council

The DGAC contends that the applicability of the final rule should be limited to the transportation of crude oil and ethanol trains, which, it says, was the stated intention of the rule. DGAC argues that, if the Department wishes to pursue enhanced tank car standards and operational requirements for other Class 3 (flammable liquid) materials, it should do so in a separate rulemaking.

American Chemistry Council

ACC believes that the scope of the final rule will inadvertently affect nearly 40,000 legacy DOT-111 tank cars that transport Class 3 flammable liquids that were not accounted for in the accompanying RIA. ACC states that because a shipper cannot know how a carrier will assemble a train, the possibility that a shipper’s tank car will be placed into an HHFT will force all shippers of Class 3 materials to retrofit or purchase tank cars to meet the DOT-117R or DOT-117 specification. ACC believes that, coupled with a retrofit timeline that does not match the Canadian timeline, the final rule will fail to properly address the risks associated with hazardous materials offered and transported in unit trains.

Association of American Railroads

AAR contests the scope of the final rule because it permits shippers to continue to package Class 3 flammable liquid materials in tank cars that do not meet the new DOT-117 tank car standard. AAR states that PHMSA has created two pools of tank cars, those that meet the heightened standard for HHFTs and those that do not. As a result, AAR asserts, shippers may continue to offer Class 3 flammable liquid materials in DOT-111 tank cars as long as the DOT-111 is not placed in an HHFT. According to AAR, this places an unjustified burden on the railroads to continuously analyze the composition of each train transporting Class 3 flammable liquid materials in DOT-111 tank cars. AAR claims that PHMSA’s argument, that through fleet management the railroads can avoid this issue, is baseless. AAR believes that PHMSA should harmonize with Canada by banning the use of DOT-111 tank cars for transporting any Class 3 flammable liquid materials. By failing to harmonize with Canada in this respect, AAR contends that the U.S. market will become flooded with legacy DOT-111 tank cars, which will further exacerbate the fleet management challenges U.S. railroads will face to construct trains to avoid meeting the definition of an HHFT. To support its appeal, AAR submitted waybill data from its subsidiary Railinc showing numbers of flammable liquid shipments tendered in smaller groups of cars that do not by themselves meet the definition of an HHFT. Data from the first quarter of 2015 illustrate that 37,000 cars of flammable liquids (other than crude oil and ethanol) were tendered in blocks of 20 cars or fewer. During the same period, 37,576 tank cars of other flammable liquids (other than the 25,009 tank cars of crude oil or 39,956 tank cars of ethanol) were tendered in groups of fewer than 35 cars. According to AAR, had the final rule been in effect, a total of 102,541 cars of flammable liquids could have moved in existing DOT-111s. AAR contends that PHMSA should specify a sunset date for discontinuing the use of DOT-111 tank cars for hazardous materials not in an HHFT.

 Summary of PHMSA and FRA response

PHMSA denies the appellants’ (DGAC, ACC, AAR, AFPM, and Treaty Tribes) appeals on Scope of Rulemaking, Tribal Impacts and Consultation, Retrofit Timeline and Tank Car Reporting Requirements, Thermal Protection for Tank Cars, and Advanced Brake Signal Propagation Systems. We conclude we reasonably determined how to apply new regulations and provided the regulatory analysis to support those decisions. While we understand that shippers, carriers, and tank car manufacturers for Class 3 flammable liquids will face new challenges in the wake of these regulations, we maintain that they are capable of complying with the final rule. We also deny DGAC’s appeal to eliminate or provide further guidance for the Sampling and Testing program. The sampling and testing program is reasonable, justified, necessary and clear as written. Additionally, we disagree that a delayed compliance date of March 31, 2016 should be provided for implementation of the requirements in § 173.41 for shippers to implement changes for training and documentation.

With respect to Information Sharing/Notification, PHMSA announced in a May 28, 2015, notice that it would extend the Emergency Order applicable to the topic of Information Sharing/Notification indefinitely, while it considered options for codifying the disclosure requirement permanently. Furthermore, on July 22, 2015, FRA issued a public letter instructing railroads transporting crude oil that they must continue to notify SERCs of the expected movement of Bakken crude oil trains through individual States. While the treaty tribes and other stakeholders will have the opportunity to comment on these future regulatory proposals in the course of that rulemaking proceeding, PHMSA will continue to seek opportunities to reach out to the tribes and consultation from tribal leaders.

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