The nation’s major freight railroads joined US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in announcing a rail operations safety initiative that will institute new voluntary operating practices for moving crude oil by rail. The announcement only covers steps related to crude by rail operations; additional issues, such as tank car standards and proper shipper classification of crude oil, are being addressed separately.
The announcement follows consultations between railroads represented by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the US Department of Transportation (DOT), including the leadership of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
Under the industry’s voluntary efforts, railroads will take the following steps:
Increased Track Inspections. Effective 25 March, railroads will perform at least one additional internal-rail inspection each year above those required by new FRA regulations on main line routes over which trains moving 20 or more carloads of crude oil travel. Railroads will also conduct at least two high-tech track geometry inspections each year on main line routes over which trains with 20 or more loaded cars of crude oil are moving. Current federal regulations do not require comprehensive track geometry inspections.
Braking Systems. No later than 1 April, railroads will equip all trains with 20 or more carloads of crude oil with either distributed power or two-way telemetry end-of-train devices. These technologies allow train crews to apply emergency brakes from both ends of the train in order to stop the train faster.
Use of Rail Traffic Routing Technology. No later than 1 July, railroads will begin using the Rail Corridor Risk Management System (RCRMS) to aid in the determination of the safest and most secure rail routes for trains with 20 or more cars of crude oil. RCRMS is an analytical tool, developed in coordination with the federal government, including the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), PHMSA and FRA. Railroads currently use RCRMS in the routing of security sensitive materials. This tool takes into account 27 risk factors—including volume of commodity, trip length, population density along the route, local emergency response capability, track quality and signal systems—to assess the safety and security of rail routes.
Lower Speeds. No later than 1 July, railroads will operate trains with 20 or more tank cars carrying crude oil that include at least one older DOT-111 car no faster than 40 mph (64 km/h) in the federally designated 46 high-threat-urban areas (HTUA) as established by DHS regulations. In the meantime, railroads will continue to operate trains with 20 or more carloads of hazardous materials, including crude oil, at the industry self-imposed speed limit of 50 mph (80 km/h).
Community Relations. Railroads will continue to work with communities through which crude oil trains move to address location-specific concerns that communities may have.
Increased Trackside Safety Technology. No later than 1 July, railroads will begin installing additional wayside wheel bearing detectors if they are not already in place every 40 miles (64 km) along tracks with trains carrying 20 or more crude oil cars, as other safety factors allow.
Increased Emergency Response Training and Tuition Assistance. Railroads have committed by 1 July to provide $5 million to develop specialized crude by rail training and tuition assistance program for local first responders. One part of the curriculum will be designed to be provided to local emergency responders in the field, as well as comprehensive training will designed to be conducted at the Transportation Technology Center, Inc. (TTCI) facility in Pueblo, Colo. The funding will provide program development as well as tuition assistance for an estimated 1500 first responders in 2014.
Emergency Response Capability Planning. Railroads will by 1 July develop an inventory of emergency response resources for responding to the release of large amounts of crude oil along routes over which trains with 20 or more cars of crude oil operate. This inventory will include locations for the staging of emergency response equipment and, where appropriate, contacts for the notification of communities. When the inventory is completed, railroads will provide DOT with information on the deployment of the resources and make the information available upon request to appropriate emergency responders.
Railroads will continue to work with the Administration and rail customers to address other key shared safety responsibilities, including federal tank car standards and the proper shipper classification and labeling of oil moving by rail. PHMSA is currently reviewing public comments on increasing federal tank car standards.
Several days earlier, in remarks for Standing Committee on Rail Transportation (SCORT) Legislative Meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Joseph Szabo, Federal Railroad Administrator, said:
We recently completed Operation Deep Dive, a 60-day safety assessment of Metro-North—a comprehensive look at the railroad’s entire operations—and plan to release our report in March after all the information has been analyzed. Equally as important, through the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), we will be meeting with the CEOs of the nation’s commuter railroads to discuss our findings, lessons learned, and to share best practices. A similar comprehensive strategy is guiding our efforts to ensure crude oil moves safely—in the Bakken region and nationwide.
Working with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, we’re looking at the entire process—the entire system—from the ground to the refinery. And we’re requiring that railroads, shippers, and the petroleum industry do exactly the same thing.