The U.S. Department of Transportation released the details of its comprehensive rule making proposal to improve the safe transportation of large quantities of flammable materials by
rail — particularly crude oil and ethanol — in the form of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).
The NPRM proposes enhanced tank car standards, a classification and testing program for mined gases and liquids and new operational requirements for high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT) that include braking controls and speed restrictions.
Specifically, within two years, it proposes the phase out of the use of older DOT 111 tank cars for the shipment of packing group I flammable liquids, including most Bakken crude oil, unless the tank cars are retrofitted to comply with new tank car design standards.
These changes stem from the apparent volatile nature of oil coming out of the Bakken Formation in Western North Dakota. The crude is thought to contain high levels of methane and propane that make the oil more flammable than originally classified. The various amounts of gases included in crude oils varies, which makes it difficult to classify individual loads in rail cars. Following accidents in Quebec, North Dakota, and other states involving Bakken crude shipments, the DOT has singled it out as particularly dangerous, paving the way to change classification rules, alter tank car specifications and requirements, and shipping logistics involving crude oil from that region.