US agency plans crew size regulations for crude-by-rail shipments

09 April 2014 22:13  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The US Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) intends to issue a proposed rule that would require at least two-person train crews on rail shipments of crude oil and is recommending other rules for the movement of hazardous materials, the agency announced on Wednesday.

The proposed rule on crew size requirements has not been issued yet but is expected before the end of the year, FRA spokesman Mike England said.

“We believe that safety is enhanced with the use of a multiple person crew safety dictates that you never allow a single point of failure,” FRA administrator Joseph Szabo said. 

While current regulations do not mandate multiple-person crews, current industry practice has been to use two-person crews on intercity and interstate rail operations, the FRA said.

The rule will have little effect on larger railroad operations, which are classified as Class 1. According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) figures from June 2013, Class 1 railroads account for 69% of US freight rail traffic in the US.

“All Class 1 freight railroads in the US today already operate their crude oil trains with two-person crews," AAR CEO Edward Hamberger said.

The AAR had told the FRA that railroads would agree to a requirement for two-person crews on all mainline trains, not just those carrying crude, until positive train control is implemented. The technological system, designed to stop or slow trains before accidents occur, would "provide for the redundancy FRA is advocating for", Hamberger said.

But the AAR noted that the FRA has not released data to show that two-person crews are safer.

"If a regulation is proposed, then the least that can be expected is that a federal agency should back it up with grounded data that justifies the recommend rule," Hamberger said.

Railroads already had agreed to voluntary safety measures with the Department of Transportation, of which the FRA is a division.

The FRA's initiation of the proposed rule follows deliberations of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) on rail safety. The RSAC's working group was not able to reach a consensus on crew size recommendations, so the FRA took action, the agency said.

The initiation of rules for minimum crews on crude rail shipments is a welcome announcement, American Petroleum Institute (API) downstream group director Bob Greco said.

"Ensuring trains are adequately staffed and implementing technologies like positive train control could improve safety by preventing accidents before they happen," he said.

RSAC deliberations on multiple-person crews were spurred by the July 2013 derailment of an unattended train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in Canada. According to US agency investigations, that train had only one operator.

The FRA plans to issue additional notices of proposed rules regarding unattended freight trains and securement of trains. The RSAC also approved recommendations for future regulations for hazardous materials transport by rail relating to identification, classification, operational control and handling of the shipments.

By: Jessie Waldheim

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