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December 06, 2013
Agencies warn of unannounced RR inspections

Operators of railroads that carry Class 3 hazardous materials (flammable liquids) and offerors of those materials may be receiving unannounced visits from inspectors with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). 

The intent of the inspections is to audit compliance with the hazardous materials regulations (HMRs) in general and, more specifically, with an emergency order (EO) published in the August 7, 2013, Federal Register to address safety concerns raised by a catastrophic rail accident that resulted in at least 42 deaths in Quebec, Canada, on July 6, 2013.  The same FR included an FRA/PHMSA safety advisory that included recommendations on avoiding the circumstances that contributed to the Quebec accident.

These issues are discussed in a new FRA/PHMSA joint safety advisory.  The agencies state that the intent of the advisory is to reinforce the importance of both proper characterization, classification, and selection of a packing group for Class 3 materials and the corresponding HMR requirements addressing safety and security planning.  The agencies are also emphasizing their expectation that rail and rail carrier offerors will revise safety and security plans required by the HMRs, including required risk assessments, to address the safety and security issues identified in the EO.    

Additional procedures required

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is still investigating the causes of the Quebec disaster.  However, it has been determined that the train, which had 72 tank cars loaded with petroleum, was unattended when it began to move.  The train picked up speed and eventually derailed in the town of Lac-Mégantic, resulting in multiple explosions and fires.

The August 7, 2013, EO requires that railroads operating on the general system implement additional processes and procedures to ensure that certain unattended trains and vehicles on mainline track or mainline siding outside of a yard or terminal are properly secured against unintended movement.

The August 7, 2013, joint safety advisory recommended that operators review with their employees the circumstances of the Quebec accident as well as staffing practices to ensure that trains carrying certain Class 3 hazardous materials are not left unattended until the operator develops, adopts, complies with, and makes available to the FRA a plan that identifies specific locations and circumstances when such trains or vehicles may be left unattended. 

Investigation initiative

The latest safety advisory follows up on a new PHMSA compliance investigation initiative called Operation Classification.  According to the agencies, the initiative involves unannounced inspections and testing by the PHMSA and FRA to verify the material classification and packing group assignments selected and certified by offerors of petroleum crude oil.  In addition, the PHMSA is accompanying the FRA on audits to evaluate safety and security plans and to determine whether the plans address vulnerabilities highlighted in the EO and first joint advisory.  The FRA states that it is also conducting additional inspections to determine compliance with the EO.

The new safety advisory was published in the November 20, 2013, FR.

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