The US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), announced proposed regulations for Oil Spill Response Plans and Information Sharing for High-Hazard Flammable Trains (HHFTs) to improve oil spill response readiness and mitigate effects of rail incidents involving petroleum oil.

The proposed rule would update and clarify the comprehensive oil spill response plan requirements for certain trains, and would require railroads to share information with state and tribal emergency response commissions to improve community preparedness for potential accidents.  The rule would also incorporate a test method for initial boiling point for flammable liquids into the hazardous materials regulations.

“Incidents involving crude oil can have devastating consequences to local communities and the environment.  We’ve taken more than 30 actions in the last two years to continue to address risk, and we continue to push the industry to do more to prevent derailments from happening,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “This rule goes one step further to hold industry accountable to plan and prepare for the worst case scenario.  It would help to ensure that railroads have comprehensive plans to respond to derailments when they occur and better ensure the safety of communities living near railroads.”

The proposed regulations include a number of commonsense measures that will improve safety.  The rule would expand the comprehensive oil spill response plan requirements under the Clean Water Act to certain HHFT trains based on the amount of crude oil being transported.  These changes mean that certain HHFT trains would be required to have comprehensive plans, instead of basic plans that are currently required.  It would also require the operator to be prepared to respond to an incident involving a worst-case discharge, or the largest quantity of oil reasonably expected to be discharged during an incident.  The rule also would codify the requirement that railroads share information about all HHFT operations with state and tribal emergency response commissions to improve community preparedness, in accordance with the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015 (FAST Act).

“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,” said PHMSA Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez.  “This rule would help to ensure that railroads provide vital information to first responders to help them prepare for and respond to a derailment involving crude.”

“Whether in a small town, large city, or environmentally sensitive area, resources and information matter during any crude oil train incident,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg.  “Railroads must continue to do everything possible to prevent an incident from occurring and strategically prepare in case one does.”

The rule proposes railroads be required 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 be transported.

– 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 petroleum 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.