Off the Rails: PHMSA Regulation of DOT-111 Tank Cars

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On Saturday, October 19, 13 cars on a Canadian National train derailed west of Edmonton, Alberta, and three cars carrying liquefied natural gas leaked and burned.  No injuries were reported.  This accident follows a similar incident in July in which a train with 72 tank cars of crude oil derailed in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec.  That derailment triggered a series of explosions that killed 47 people. The tank cars carrying the oil were non-pressure tank cars that meet specific DOT containment standards, classified as DOT-111 cars.

These incidents have attracted scrutiny from Canadian and U.S. regulators.  It was recently reported that Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt plans to hold talks this fall with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx regarding DOT-111 tank car safety issues.  Further, the incidents have focused attention on the increased transportation by rail of crude oil from areas such as the Bakken region in Montana and North Dakota, and the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada.

On September 6, 2013, in response to the Lac-Megantic incident, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (“PHMSA”) announced its intention through an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPRM”) to publish draft regulations that would require DOT-111 railcars to be updated to address concerns stemming from recent events.  The ANPRM responds to eight separate petitions for rulemaking submitted to PHMSA, addressing concerns related to the transportation of hazardous materials by rail and seeking to fix potential design flaws in DOT-111 tank cars that may have contributed to both incidents.  Proposed changes to the DOT-111 tank cars include thicker steel for tank heads and shells and more robust protection for top fittings.

Comments to the ANPRM are due on November 5, 2013.