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Rail Safety Regulations Implementation, Mitigation and Preparedness

Posted on Thu, Sep 22, 2016

The first officially recorded U.S. railroad accident occurred in 1832 when four people were thrown off a vacant car on the Granite Railway near Quincy, Massachusetts. The victims had been invited to view the freight process of transporting loads of stone when a cable snapped on the return trip. As a result, the observers were thrown off the train and over a 34-foot cliff. One man was killed and the others were seriously injured.

Rail technology, applicable safety regulations and compliance initiatives have significantly changed since 1832. In early 2016, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced that its heighten enforcement of railroad safety regulations in 2015 led to the highest civil penalty collection rate in the agency’s 50-year history. “Safety must be the number one priority for every railroad, and the Department of Transportation will continue to take aggressive action against railroads who fail to follow safety rules,” said U.S Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “A strong safety enforcement program is critical to prevent accidents, save lives and move our country forward.”

According to the Association of American Railcars, freight railroads operate over a network of nearly 140,000 miles and serve nearly every industry sector of the economy. Two significant safety measures affecting the state of rail safety include the ‘Implementing the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015”, and “FAST Act Requirements for Flammable Liquids and Rail Tank Cars”.

The FRA has been monitoring the progress of the “Implementing the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015”. Positive Train Control (PTC) provides a capable system that prevents train-to-train collisions, over speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and the movement of a train through a main line switch in the wrong position. When active, the PTC can mitigate multiple vulnerabilities and eliminate the need for an emergency response.

The initial December 31, 2015 deadline for Positive Train Control (PTC) enforcements was extended to December 31, 2018 to allow for railroads to achieve full PTC integration. However, rail companies are slow to make the expensive transition.

The PTC integration status update as of the June 30, 2016 is as follows:

PTC Implementation Freight Rail Passenger Rail
Radio Towers Installed 73% 46%
Locomotive Equipped 34% 29%
Training Completed 43% 41%
Route Miles in PTC Operation 9% 22%
Track Segments Completed 11% 12%


The law also authorizes up to a two-year additional extension on a case-by-case basis if the railroad can demonstrate that it has fulfilled statutory prerequisites including, but not limited to:

  • Installed all PTC hardware by December 31, 2018
  • Acquired all spectrum necessary for implementation of the PTC system by December 31, 2018
  • Completed employee training required under FRA’s PTC regulations
  • Included in its revised PTC implementation plan an alternative schedule and sequence for implementing PTC as soon as practicable
  • Certified in writing that it will be in full compliance with the requirements of 49 U.S.C. § 20157 on or before the date in the alternative schedule and sequence, subject to FRA approval.

On August 15, 2016, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the FRA issued a final rule modifying regulations governing trains hauling crude oil and other flammable materials. The potential impacts of a hazardous material incident can be significant.

  • The rule mandates that all new tank cars (specifically, each tank car built to meet the DOT-117 specification, and each non-jacketed tank car retrofit to meet the DOT-117R specification) be equipped with a thermal, insulating protection blanket that has been approved by PHMSA pursuant to 49 C.F.R. 179.18(c).
  • These new tank car requirements are expanded to all trains hauling flammable liquids, regardless of the length of the train.
  • Older tank cars retrofitted to the new design standard (the DOT-117R specification) must be equipped with certain minimum top fittings protections.
  • The rule also requires a faster phase-out of older model tank cars used to transport unrefined petroleum products (e.g., petroleum crude oil), ethanol, and other Class 3 flammable liquids, irrespective of train composition.

As of January 1, 2016, there were 4,613 DOT-117 style tank cars in the manufacturing backlog.

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Tags: Crude by Rail