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TTD Weighs in on Improving the Safety of Rail Transportation of Crude Oil

By Admin

Mr. Ben Supko
Standards and Rulemaking Division
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, DC  20590

RE:     Hazardous Materials: Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard                            Flammable Trains
           Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
           Docket No. PHMSA-2012-0082 (HM-251)
           RIN 2137-AE91
           Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

Dear Mr. Supko:

On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), I write to comment on the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Hazardous Materials, Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains (HHFTs).  By way of background, TTD consists of 32 affiliate unions including those that represent workers employed in the railroad industry and the first responders who answer the call when rail accidents occur.[1]  We also note that two of our affiliates, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) and the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) Transportation Division, have each filed comments in this proceeding.

Recent rail accidents in the U.S. and Canada involving trains carrying crude oil have demonstrated the need for improved safety standards.  This proposed rule seeks to meet these needs by making changes to tank car standards, the operation of trains transporting flammable liquids, and the type of information shared with first responders regarding the shipment of crude oil.  We express support for aspects of this NPRM as explained below and offer suggestions for improvement.

In particular, we believe that codifying the Department of Transportation’s May 2014 Emergency Order (EO) will continue to benefit local emergency responders – including fire fighters and paramedics – responsible for responding to train accidents occurring in their localities.  As required by the May 2014 EO, rail carriers operating trains carrying one million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil must provide specified information to the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) in each state through which such trains will travel.  This information includes an estimate of the number of trains expected to travel through each county in a given state per week and a description of the routes those trains will take and the oil they will transport.

Ensuring that local fire fighters and paramedics have access to this information will benefit their efforts to prepare contingency plans in case of an accident.  As such, we support the continuation of this reporting requirement and request that carriers provide this information to Local Emergency Planning Committees and local hazardous materials response units in addition to SERCs so that these entities are better prepared should a rail accident occur.

We also believe that if carriers are capable of identifying their trains’ movements for the above purpose, they should also be able to provide their employees with predictable work schedules.  Current practice leaves operating employees subject to unpredictable work schedules, inhibiting their ability to obtain adequate rest and contributing to a fatigued workforce.  But by notifying their employees of their work schedules at a minimum of 10 hours notice before reporting to duty, operators will be better able to get the rest they need to perform their work safely.  As such, we support requiring carriers to notify employees of their work schedules at least 10 hours before work begins.

Additionally, we support improving tank car standards to help withstand greater impact, prevent oil spills, and reduce stopping distances.  We support equipping HHFTs with electronic controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes; however, this requirement must be accompanied with the restoration of the 1,000-1,500 mile interval for brake/mechanical inspections of ECP-equipped trains performed by a qualified brake/mechanical inspector.  We also support tank car standard Option I, which offers the greatest safety benefits of the options proposed, but this standard must incorporate the reduced brake/mechanical inspection interval previously mentioned.  We also support phasing out non-conforming tank cars from use in HHFTs as quickly as reasonably possible.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment and hope our thoughts will be taken into consideration.

Edward Wytkind
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