In previous posts we’ve looked at the tremendous increase in railway traffic involving crude oil over the last five years, the outmoded nature of tank car stock and the particular vulnerability of Columbus to increased railway traffic related to increased drilling along the Beartooth Front.
Today we have a positive development on this front.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) have announced a rail safety initiative to institute new voluntary operating practices for moving crude oil by rail. These practices include:
- Increased track inspections: Beginning March 25, 2014, the railroads will perform at least one additional internal-rail inspection per year above those required by new Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) rules on main line routes over which trains moving 20 or more carloads of crude oil travel. The railroads will also conduct at least two high-tech track geometry inspections each year on main line routes over which trains moving 20 or more car of crude oil are moving. Current federal regulations do not require high-tech track geometry inspections.
- Braking systems: No later than April 1, 2014, the 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 brakes to be applied from both ends of the train.
- Use of rail traffic routing technology: No later than July 1, 2014, the railroads will begin to use the Rail Corridor Risk Management System (RCRMS) to help determine the safest and more secure rail routes for trains with 20 or more cars of crude oil.
- Lower speeds: No later than July 1, 2014, the 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 miles-per-hour in the federally designated 46 high-threat-urban areas as established by the Department of Homeland Security. 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 miles per hour.
- Community relations: The railroads will work with communities through which crude oil trains move to address local concerns.
- Increased trackside safety technology: No later than July 1, 2014, railroads will begin to install additional wayside wheel bearing detectors every 40 miles along tracks with trains carrying 20 or more crude oil cars.
- Increased emergency response training and tuition assistance: The railroads have committed to provide $5 million by July 1, 2014, to develop specialized crude by rail training and tuition assistant program for local first responders.
- Emergency responsive capability planning: By July 1, 2014, the railroads will 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.
It’s important to note that this plan doesn’t include recommendations for two key areas that need to be addressed:
- Federal tank car standards.
- The proper classification and labeling of crude oil moving by rail.
Both these issues are critical, since the oil being shipped from the Bakken, Marcellus and Eagle Ford is extremely volatile. It needs to handled correctly and shipped in cars designed to protect this flammable cargo. The agreement includes a plan for the DOT to work with their rail customers to address these issues. The sooner the better.
A step in the right direction to be sure, given the dramatic increase in railway oil shipments, but still more to be done. Watch this space for future developments.
Correction: A small but significant correction for those of you who get these posts via email. In my last post on the location of the recently-permitted Belfry well, I got the location slightly wrong. The actual location is here (marker A on the map), and it has been corrected in the post. The reason this is significant is that, as I am told by people who live in the area and as you can see when you look closely, the well is located in a drainage area, which makes it all the more hazardous. Thanks to sharp-eyed readers.