BREAKING: Federal Emergency Order 28, Safety Advisory 2013-06, hazardous materials safety, action plan

Repost from Federal Railroad Administration
Editor:  See links to original April 17 documents below.  (These, and dditional orders going back to September 2012 can be viewed here.)  – RS]

Policy and Guidance

Safety Action Plan for Hazardous Materials Safety

Federal Railroad Administration’s Action Plan for the Safe Transportation of Energy Products (STEP)

In response to train accidents in the United States and Canada involving tank cars carrying crude oil, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), including the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), continue to pursue a comprehensive, all-of-the-above approach in minimizing risk and ensuring the safe transport of crude oil by rail.

Over the past year, FRA and PHMSA have undertaken nearly two dozen actions to enhance the safe transport of crude oil. This comprehensive approach includes near and long-term steps such as: launching “Operation Classification” in the Bakken region to verify that crude oil is being properly classified; issuing safety advisories, alerts, emergency orders and regulatory updates; conducting special inspections; aggressively moving forward with a rulemaking to enhance tank car standards; and reaching agreement with railroad companies on a series of immediate voluntary actions including reducing speeds, increasing inspections, using new brake technology and investing in first responder training.

Here is a chronology of actions DOT, PHMSA and FRA have pursued over the past year(s):

April 17, 2015

FRA and PHMSA issued:

FRA Emergency Order No. 30, Notice No. 1: Establishing a Maximum Operating Speed of 40 mph in High-Threat Urban Areas for Certain Trains Transporting Large Quantities of Class 3 Flammable Liquids

PHMSA Notice 15-7: Hazardous Materials: Emergency Response Information Requirements

FRA/PHMSA Safety Advisory on Information Requirements Related to the Transportation of Trains Carrying Specified Volumes of Flammable Liquids:

FRA Safety Advisory 2015-01: Mechanical Inspections and Wheel Impact Detector Standards for Trains Transporting Large Amounts of Class 3 Flammable Liquids

FRA Letter to AAR:

Special Study Block FRA Notice:

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BREAKING: Lower Speed Limits Part of U.S. Safety Proposal for Oil Trains

Repost from Bloomberg
[Editor:  See also:  OregonLive, Minnesota Public Radio, U.S. News & World Report, others….  – RS]

Lower Speed Limits Part of U.S. Safety Proposal for Oil Trains

by Jim Snyder, April 17, 2015 10:00 AM PDT

Trains carrying crude oil will be restricted to a 40 mile-per-hour speed limit in populated areas such as New York under an order by the U.S. Department of Transportation in response to a series of derailments. Railroads voluntarily agreed to that speed limit in so-called High Threat Urban Areas, a designation that covers more than three dozen cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington. The emergency order issued Friday makes that agreement mandatory for all railroads hauling 20 or more tank cars linked together or 35 cars in total that are filled with oil or other flammable liquids. It applies to both older model DOT-111 tank cars and CPC-1232s the industry has been voluntarily building since 2011. “This order is necessary due to the recent occurrence of railroad accidents involving trains transporting petroleum crude oil and ethanol and the increasing reliance on railroads to transport voluminous amounts of those hazardous material in recent years,” the notice states. The White House Office of Management and Budget is reviewing a proposal from the Transportation Department that would require a more durable type of tank car be used to transport oil and other flammable liquids. That rule may be released next month. A draft of that rule calls for tank cars with a thicker steel shell, more robust top fittings and better brakes.

Quebec Disaster

Questions about the safety of the growing fleet of trains carrying oil arose after an unattended train broke from its moorings in 2013 and rolled into Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. This year, oil trains have derailed in Ontario and in West Virginia and Illinois, creating dramatic images of fireballs billowing from rumpled tank cars. The Transportation Department also issued a notice Friday to ensure railroads provide information to investigators after an accident within 90 minutes, including about the volatility of the oil being hauled and the type of rail car in the train. Investigators suspect an accident last month in Galena, Illinois, was related to a broken wheel, and in another step announced today, the Transportation Department recommended tighter standards for replacing wheels than the industry currently observes. Railroads should “provide special attention” to the condition of the tank cars they haul, the order states.

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Union Pacific decision imperils sports events in Sacramento CA

Repost from The Sacramento Bee

Texas train tragedy imperils sports events in California’s capital

By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, 04/17/2015 1:39 PM
Runners wait for the race to begin during the 32nd annual California International Marathon on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. Organizers of sports events in California’s capital are concerned that the nation’s largest railroad may not allow participants to cross tracks, forcing them to reroute or cancel more races.

Runners wait for the race to begin during the 32nd annual California International Marathon on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. Organizers of sports events in California’s capital are concerned that the nation’s largest railroad may not allow participants to cross tracks, forcing them to reroute or cancel more races. Andrew Seng /

— Every year for a decade, organizers of the Kaiser Permanente Women’s Fitness Festival took care of an important detail without much difficulty: asking Union Pacific Railroad permission for runners to cross its track that bisects the city of Sacramento.

Kim Parrino, the event’s race director, put in the request to the railroad for safe passage for about 4,000 participants in a June 5K and half-marathon back in September.

She got the return call two weeks ago. And for the first time ever, the answer was no.

“It was a very short conversation,” she said.

Parrino was forced to cancel the Women’s Festival half-marathon and reroute the 5K so it doesn’t cross the Union Pacific track.

“We have a beautiful downtown area, and we can’t run through it,” she said. “We’re cut off.”

Organizers of other sports events in California’s capital are concerned that the nation’s largest railroad may give them the same answer, forcing them to reroute or cancel more races. It could threaten the California International Marathon, which brings 14,000 runners and millions of dollars to the Sacramento-area economy, and could affect the ability of the city to host future events.

“The policy shift is something that presents significant challenges,” said Mike Sophia, director of the Sacramento Sports Commission.

Though the railroad won’t elaborate on what prompted its change in policy, Sophia said the difficulties began two years ago, a few months after the fatal collision of a Union Pacific train and a veterans parade float in Midland, Texas, in November 2012.

“I do believe it’s a safety issue,” Sophia said. “That’s understandable.”

That parade’s organizers never told the railroad that their route would cross its track, and a train slammed into a parade float at 60 mph. Four veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were killed, having pushed their spouses out of harm’s way seconds before impact.

Though the National Transportation Safety Board faulted the parade’s organizers and found Union Pacific to be in compliance with federal law, 43 survivors and family members of crash victims sued the railroad. Union Pacific reached a confidential settlement with 26 of them in January. In February, a Texas judge dismissed a lawsuit by the remaining 17.

Aaron Hunt, a spokesman for Union Pacific, said the railroad made decisions about whether to grant safe passage on a case-by-case basis. He offered no specific reasons for the company’s change in policy on safe passage for Sacramento events or who changed it.

“We asked officials to reroute their race due to safety concerns for event participants,” he said.

Rail transportation is federally regulated, giving state and local officials little say over how railroads operate. Railroad rights-of-way are privately owned property, and organizers of events that intersect with railroad tracks are obligated to seek permission to cross.

In addition to safety issues, there are business costs. Idling trains for hours at a time can delay freight shipments. Hunt said that Union Pacific, which has a parallel route that avoids the middle of Sacramento, does not reroute trains for special events.

Last year, the railroad didn’t grant safe passage for the California International Marathon until November, a month before the race.

Rep. Doris Matsui, a Sacramento Democrat, helped resolve last year’s impasse and encouraged the railroad to work with Sacramento to find a safe way to hold events.

“Events such as the Women’s Fitness Festival and the International Marathon are important to our community and our economy,” she said in a statement this week.

The California International Marathon has been run every year for 32 years. The 26-mile race starts in Folsom and proceeds west to the state capitol. But the Union Pacific track presents a barrier. Major east-west streets in Sacramento cross the railroad at ground level, and there are no overpasses or underpasses.

“It’s very hard to do much in the downtown corridor without coming in contact with those tracks,” said Scott Abbott, executive director of the Sacramento Running Association, which founded the International Marathon in 1983.

The race had a close call in 2003, when a train crossed the marathon route during the previously arranged safety window.

“We weren’t prepared for that,” Abbott said.

Last fall, even though organizers of the Mill Race Marathon in Columbus, Ind., made arrangements with a local railroad in advance, a train made an unexpected appearance.

Video footage shows runners scrambling to beat the slow-moving train. When it stopped, some climbed between the cars. The few police officers on hand could do little to stop it.

Just last week, a similar problem beset the Paris-Roubaix bicycle race in France. When the gates came down at a railroad crossing, many competitors darted around them in front of a high-speed passenger train.

No one was injured in these incidents, but the combination of focused athletes and trains that need as much as a mile to stop can lead to tragic consequences.

“A lot can go wrong, even with the proper precautions,” said Steven Schmader, president and CEO of the International Festivals & Events Association, whose group participated in the NTSB investigation of the Texas accident.

According to Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit rail safety education group, California led the nation last year in railroad crossing fatalities involving trains and cars, with 33. More people were killed while walking across or on railroad tracks in California than any other state with 101 deaths and 53 injuries, according to federal statistics.

Abbott said the Sacramento Running Association has rerouted every other event it holds to avoid crossing the railroad tracks, but moving the International Marathon course has too many downsides. Rerouting the race would require adjusting the mileage and could potentially disrupt local traffic and inconvenience participants who are staying in downtown hotels.

“With the numbers of people that we have and the amount of time we impact at the finish area,” he said, “the capitol grounds are really the only acceptable place to finish on a Sunday morning in Sacramento.”

Schmader, whose office, coincidentally, is in the old Union Pacific station in Boise, Idaho, said Sacramento leaders should come together to stress the importance of the marathon.

“Everybody would hate to see a good event go away or changed to its detriment,” he said.

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