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New Rules for High-Hazard Flammable Trains

On May 1, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued final rulemaking that addresses the ongoing hazards and risks associated with rail cars carrying Hazard Class 3 liquids.

Responding to increasing calls for improved safety regulations to address a growing number of derailments involving rail cars carrying crude oil and ethanol, these regulations will result in enhanced tank-car safety standards and improved operational controls.

Under this final rule, high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT) are defined as trains with 20 or more consecutive flammable-liquid rail tank cars or 35 or more flammable-liquid rail tank cars interspersed throughout a train.

The published rule changes for HHFTs include the following:

  • A new DOT class (DOT 117) of flammable-liquids rail cars has been developed. DOT 117 railcars will have a thicker shell, more thermal protection, enhanced head protection and improved outlet and relief-valve protection, all designed to decrease the potential for fires and spills resulting from accidents. All such cars manufactured after October 1, 2015, must be constructed to meet these new specifications.
  • A retrofit requirement specifies that all current DOT 111 railcars in service meet the DOT 117 specification performance standards by 2023.
  • Enhanced breaking systems for HHFT unit trains are required. These systems, also known as positive train control, result in brakes being applied to all cars at the same time rather than sequentially.
  • Speed limits of 50 MPH for all HHFT trains and lower speed restrictions based on the types of rail cars (that is, nonretrofitted) and the physical area the train is traveling through have been established. High-threat urban areas carry a maximum speed limit of 40 MPH.
  • New train-routing analysis criteria requiring railroads to determine routes based on 27 different safety and security factors will be developed.
  • Classification of unrefined petroleum products being shipped via rail will be improved.
  • Railroads must notify state and regional fusion centers and state and local officials who contact a railroad must be provided appropriate assistance in order to request information related to the routing of hazardous materials through their jurisdictions.

Throughout this process, the leaders of the IAFC and the IAFC Hazmat Committee have been involved in monitoring and commenting on the development of these rules to ensure the fire service had a voice in this important matter.

The IAFC Hazmat Committee resources page and the National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center both provide information and training resources related to HHFTs and the transportation of all types of hazardous materials.

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