PHMSA proposes crude-by-rail response, data-sharing procedures

The US Pipeline & Hazardous Material Safety Administration proposed new oil spill response and information procedures for high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT) in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration.

The new rule would update and clarify comprehensive spill response plan requirements for HHFTs and require railroads to share information with state and tribal emergency commissions to improve accident preparedness, PHMSA said July 13. It also would incorporate a test method for the initial boiling point of flammable liquids into hazardous materials regulations, the US Department of Transportation agency said.

“The substantial surge in our country’s production of crude oil is creating a serious need for improved response and communication between railroads and the communities through which they travel,” PHMSA Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez said. “This rule would help to ensure that railroads provide vital information to first responder to help them prepare for and respond to a derailment involving crude.”

Specifically, the proposed rule would expand comprehensive oil spill response plans under the federal Clean Water Act to certain HHFTs based on the amount of crude being transported. These changes mean that certain HHFTs would need comprehensive plans, instead of the basic plans which are required currently, PHMSA said.

The proposal also would require the train’s operator to be prepared to respond to an incident involving a worst-case discharge, or the largest quantity of crude expected to be release during an incident. It also would codify the requirement that railroads share information about all HHFT operations with state and tribal emergency response commissions, in accordance to the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

PHMSA said the rule proposes requiring railroads to provide monthly notification or certification of no change to state and tribal emergency response commissions and relevant emergency responders for HHFTs, including:

• A reasonable estimate of the number of HHFTs that are expected to travel, per week, through each county within the state.

• The routes over which the affected trains will move.

• A description of the materials shipped and applicable emergency response information required by hazardous materials regulations.

• At least one point of contact at the railroad (including name, title, phone number, and address) for the state and tribal emergency response commissions, and relevant emergency responders related to the railroad's transportation of affected trains.

• For oil trains subject to the Comprehensive Oil Spill Response Plan under 49 CFR part 130, the contact information for the qualified individuals and description of response zones must also be provided to state and tribal emergency response commissions, or other appropriate state-delegated entities.

Contact Nick Snow at

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