With another major derailment of crude oil bearing railroad cars last month in Illinois (see Shale Daily, March 6), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on Friday issued an emergency order requiring crude and other flammable liquids hauling trains to slow down when passing through urban areas, along with other safety measures.

Citing recent years of heightened increases in oil rail shipments, DOT officials said the number of significant accidents involving trains carrying ethanol or crude oil is “unprecedented.”

Friday’s action is part of a series of what DOT called “more than two dozen” steps it has taken over the last 19 months since significant crude rail accidents occurred in 2013 in both Canada and the United States. The latest action involves the emergency order, two Safety Advisories, and notices to industry that are intended to increase the safety of transporting so-called Class 3 flammable liquids, of which crude oil is one.

Drawing on information related to recent derailments, DOT said it was recommending only highly skilled inspectors conduct brake review and mechanical inspections on trains hauling crude and other flammable liquids; information on trains and their critical cargos must be more readily available to emergency responders and/or federal investigators, and finally that on an emergency order basis crude and flammable liquids hauling trains need to limit their speeds to 40 mph in urban areas.

DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx called the measures “important, common-sense steps” that the federal agency thinks are necessary to protect railroad employees and residents in communities along rail lines.

“Taking the opportunity to review safety steps and to refresh information before moving forward is a standard safety practice in many industries, and we expect the shipping and carrier industries to do the same,” said Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg, at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Last year, DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) developed some proposed new permanent rules, which include definitions for “high-hazard flammable trains,” routing risks, reduced operating speeds and notification of state emergency response commissions (see Shale Daily, Dec. 3, 2014). Those are still working through the pre-implementation processes.

Foxx called the latest action a result of “lessons learned from recent accidents,” and are expected to improve safety in the transport of flammable liquids. He also indicated the DOT “is not done yet” in addressing the crude rail transportation safety issues.