The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), along with its Canadian counterpart, on Friday issued a final rule on the shipment of flammable liquids by rail, including crude oil and other petroleum products.

Responding to a series of recent derailments of oil-laden trains (see Shale Daily, March 6), the final rule was developed by two DOT units, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration, in coordination with Canada’s transportation officials. Canadian Minister of Transport Lisa Rait joined DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx in Washington, DC, to announce the new rule.

In the final rule are enhanced tank car standards and a retrofitting schedule, new braking standards, various operational requirements for trains carrying large volumes of flammable liquids, and new sampling/testing requirements for the cargo.

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, resulting in oil leakage, explosions, fire and loss of life, occurred in 2013 in Canada and the United States. While the final rule is aimed at increasing the safety of transporting Class 3 flammable liquids, of which crude oil is one, work continues with other federal agencies and various interpretations of the new standards will continue.

DOT’s release of the final rule included the fact that other federal agencies — Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy (DOE) “are pursuing strategies to improve safety,” in coordination with the White House.

DOE recently announced an initiative aimed at researching and characterizing tight and conventional crude oils based on key chemical and physical properties, and “to identify properties that may contribute to increased likelihood and/or severity of combustion events that can arise during handling and transport.” In recent years, Bakken crude has been singled out for more study on the state and federal levels because of its involvement in explosions and fires resulting from derailments on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border (see Shale Daily, March 18; Nov. 14, 2014).

Based on a review of the DOT fact sheet on the new standards ClearView Energy Partners LLC’s Kevin Book, managing director, said the final rule appears to define two classes of regulated tank car trains with different braking requirements, establish strict new tank car design specifications and broaden and “harmonize” with Canada’s program the existing tank car phase-out. The new required train speeds appear to follow DOT’s recent emergency order (see Shale Daily, April 20).

Book said ClearView will complete a more thorough analysis after it has examined the full 395-page final rule.

DOT’s Foxx said his department’s close work with Canada on the final rule recognizes “that the trains moving unprecedented amounts of crude by rail are not U.S. or Canadian tank cars — they are part of a North American fleet and a shared safety challenge.”

Canada’s Raitt called it a “harmonized solution” for the North American tank car fleet, adding that “stronger, safer, more robust tank cars will protect communities on both sides of our shared border.”

While the DOT fact sheet attributed the final rule’s scope to what are defined as “high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT),” Book raised the possibility that it also will include “high-hazard flammable unit trains (HHFUT).” HHFT called out in the fact sheet are trains with 35 or more cars containing flammable liquids, or 20 continuous cars containing those liquids; HHFUT would be ones with 70 or more cars with flammable liquids and traveling at speeds greater than 30 mph.

The speed requirements in the final rule refer only to the HHFT, calling for no faster than 50 mph in all areas, and requiring HHFTs that include tank cars not meeting the enhanced standards to operate at 40 mph in high-threat urban areas as defined by the Transportation Security Administration (49 CFR 1580.3).

The new tank car enhanced standards required on all cars built after Oct. 1 this year are detailed and complex as are the retrofit requirements and phase-out schedule. A retrofit reporting requirement kicks in Jan. 1, 2017, and work completion deadlines continue until May 1, 2025 in both the United States and Canada.

Different enhanced braking requirements are prescribed for HHFT and HHFUT trains. HHFUT trains in packing group 1 classification (liquids with lowest boiling/flash points) need electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking systems by Jan. 1, 2021, and those trains with all other packing groups need ECP by May 1, 2023.

“The HHFTs do not appear to require ECP brakes — a significant concession to railroads concerned about the high costs relative to safety gains for comprehensive retrofits to ‘manifest’ (variegated cargo) trains,” Book said in his analysis released on Friday.

In the routing requirements for HHFT trains, an analysis considering a minimum of 27 safety and security factors would be required in selecting a route for a train carrying flammable liquids.