In Effect April 1: New PHMSA Oil Spill Plan Rules for Railroads

Posted on 2/25/2019 by Roger Marks

Update: Feb. 28, 2019

PHMSA's new oil spill planning and information sharing requirements for railroads that transport HHFTs appeared in the Federal Register today.

The new requirements take effect on April 1, 2019. 

Read the full Final Rule here. 

Original text (Posted 02/25/19)

On Valentine’s Day 2019, US DOT announced a forthcoming Final Rule to require railroads to develop and submit Comprehensive Oil Spill Response Plans (COSRPs) for routes traveled by High Hazard Flammable Trains (HHFTs).

What is an HHFT?

PHMSA defined a high hazard flammable train (HHFT) in a crude oil rulemaking in May 2015.

An HHFT is:
  • A train with 20 or more cars in a continuous block loaded with a Class 3 flammable materials; or
  • with more than 35 cars across the entire train loaded with a Class 3 flammable materials.
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What’s in the New PHMSA Final Rule?

The forthcoming Final Rule has three main components:

I. Comprehensive Oil Spill Response Plans

Rail carriers that transport HHFTs must submit a CORSP—to be approved by PHMSA—for responding to a worse-case scenario discharge of oil (300,000 gallons or 15% of total lading volume), or to the substantial threat of such a discharge.

II. High-Hazard Flammable Train Information Sharing

Rail carries that transport HHFTs much notify local emergency responders with the following information:
  • A reasonable estimate of the number of HHFTs expected to travel through each county in the state per week, and on what routes
  • A description of the materials being shipped
  • A point of contact at the railroad; and
  • Notify local agencies if volume changes more than 25%.

III. Initial Boiling Point Test

To provide flexibility and promote accurate Packing Group (PG) assignments, the Final Rule also incorporates by reference ASTM D7900—the “Standard Test Method for Determination of Light Hydrocarbons in Stabilized Crude Oils by Gas Chromatography” as an acceptable alternative to boiling point tests specified in the current PHMSA rail requirements (49 CFR 173.121). 

See the highlights of the new oil spill preparedness Final Rule on PHMSA’s website.

The Final Rule will take effect 180 days after it’s published in the Federal Register. Lion staff will update this post when the Final Rule appears in the FR.

A pre-publication version of the Final Rule is available here.

The FAST Act

The soon-to-be-finalized COSRP requirements for railroads come by way of new mandates from Congress in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or FAST Act, a five-year $305 billion transportation bill. Read more about hazardous materials items in the FAST Act.

The OSRP rulemaking for railroads was proposed in July 2016. In January 2018, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao updated Congress on the progress of the Final Rule.  

In September 2018, PHMSA removed a requirement for HHFTs to be equipped with electronically controlled pneumatic brake systems (ECP brake systems), which was put in place in 2015. PHMSA decided that requiring new brake systems for trains carrying crude oil was “not economically justified.” 

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Tags: COSRP, hazmat shipping, new rules, oil spill planning, PHMSA

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