[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 80 (Monday, April 27, 2015)]
[Pages 23318-23321]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-09612]



Federal Railroad Administration

[Safety Advisory 2015-01]

Mechanical Inspections and Wheel Impact Load Detector Standards 
for Trains Transporting Large Amounts of Class 3 Flammable Liquids

AGENCY: Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Department of 
Transportation (DOT).

ACTION: Notice of Safety Advisory.


SUMMARY: Recent derailments have occurred involving trains transporting 
large quantities of petroleum crude oil and ethanol. Preliminary 
investigation of one of these recent derailments involving a crude oil 
train indicates that a mechanical defect involving a broken tank car 
wheel may have caused or contributed to the incident. FRA is issuing 
this Safety Advisory to make recommendations to enhance the mechanical 
safety of the cars in trains transporting large quantities of flammable 
liquids. This Safety Advisory recommends that railroads use highly 
qualified individuals to conduct the brake and mechanical inspections 
and recommends a reduction to the impact threshold levels the industry 
currently uses for wayside detectors that measure

[[Page 23319]]

wheel impacts to ensure the wheel integrity of tank cars in those 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ron Hynes, Director, Office of Safety 
Assurance and Compliance, Office of Railroad Safety, FRA, 1200 New 
Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC 20590, telephone (202) 493-6404; or, 
Thomas Herrmann, Assistant Chief Counsel for Safety, Office of Chief 
Counsel, FRA, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC 20590, 
telephone (202) 493-6036.



    The overall safety of railroad operations, including shipments of 
hazardous materials, has improved in recent years. However, the July 
2013 derailment in Lac-M[eacute]gantic, Quebec, Canada, demonstrates 
the potentially catastrophic consequences of a railroad accident 
resulting in the sudden release of large quantities of Class 3 
flammable liquids. Since that accident, there have been a number of 
derailments with subsequent fires and evacuations in the United States 
involving trains transporting large quantities of Class 3 flammable 
liquids (specifically, crude oil and ethanol). Although none of the 
recent derailments in this country have resulted in the tragic loss of 
life that occurred as a result of the Lac-M[eacute]gantic derailment, 
recent events have led DOT and FRA to thoroughly evaluate and address 
the unique risks associated with the growing reliance on trains to 
transport large quantities of Class 3 flammable liquids.
    For example, in the last two years, DOT (including FRA and the 
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)) has 
taken numerous actions to address the safe transportation by rail of 
Class 3 flammable liquids. Among other actions, DOT has issued three 
emergency orders \1\ and several safety advisories, reached voluntary 
agreements with the railroad industry,\2\ and undertaken several 
separate rulemaking proceedings to address the transportation and 
handling of trains transporting large quantities of Class 3 flammable 
liquids. Notably, PHMSA, in cooperation with FRA, is nearing completion 
of a comprehensive final rule that will enhance the safe transportation 
of large quantities of Class 3 flammable liquids by rail. The final 
rule will build on proposals contained in the Notice of Proposed 
Rulemaking (NPRM) in the HM-251 rulemaking proceeding (79 FR 45016, 
Aug. 1, 2014).\3\ The final rule was submitted to the Office of 
Management and Budget (OMB) for review pursuant to Executive Order 
12866 on February 5, 2015 (http://www.reginfo.gov/public). A chronology 
of various DOT actions to address safe transportation of flammable 
liquids is listed on PHMSA's Internet Web site.\4\

    \1\ DOT Emergency Restriction/Prohibition Order, Docket No. DOT-
OST-2014-0067 (May 7, 2014); DOT Amended and Restated Emergency 
Restriction/Prohibition Order, Docket No. DOT-OST-2014-0025 (March 
6, 2014); and, FRA Emergency Order No. 28, 78 FR 48218, Aug. 2, 
    \2\ http://www.dot.gov/briefing-room/letter-association-american-railroads.
    \3\ http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-08-01/pdf/2014-17764.pdf.
    \4\ http://phmsa.dot.gov/hazmat/osd/chronology.

    Despite ongoing efforts by DOT, the railroad industry, tank car 
manufacturers, and other interested parties, the United States has 
experienced the derailment of several trains transporting large 
quantities of Class 3 flammable liquids (i.e., ``high-hazard flammable 
trains'' or HHFTs) over just the past three months. (For purposes of 
this Safety Advisory a HHFT is a train comprised of 20 or more loaded 
tank cars of a Class 3 flammable liquid in a continuous block or 35 or 
more loaded tank cars of a Class 3 flammable liquid across the entire 
train.) These incidents occurred in Iowa, West Virginia, and Illinois. 
FRA's preliminary investigation indicates that the recent derailment in 
Illinois may have occurred as a result of a wheel break occurring on a 
railroad tank car loaded with petroleum crude oil.

Galena, Illinois Derailment

    The following is an overview of the circumstance surrounding the 
most recent notable derailment involving a HHFT. The probable cause of 
this derailment has not yet been established by FRA. Accordingly, 
nothing in this Safety Advisory is intended to attribute a definitive 
cause(s) to this incident, or to place responsibility for the incident 
on the acts or omissions of any specific person or entity.
    On March 5, 2015, an eastbound BNSF Railway Co. (BNSF) train 
consisting of 103 tank cars loaded with Bakken crude oil (petroleum 
crude oil, UN 1267, 3, PG I) derailed near Galena, Illinois, resulting 
in a fire. The train was traveling from North Dakota to Philadelphia, 
Pennsylvania. The train was traveling at an approximate speed of 23 mph 
when 21 loaded tank cars derailed. As a result of the derailment, 
petroleum crude oil was released and a fire ensued. Seven cars 
experienced catastrophic thermal tears, three cars released product 
through their bottom outlet valves, and two cars released product from 
their top fittings. The derailment occurred in a rural area only a few 
hundred feet from the Mississippi River. FRA's preliminary 
investigation indicates that a broken wheel on one of the loaded tank 
cars in the train may have caused the derailment.
    In addition to the above-described incident, previous publicized 
derailments resulting in releases of crude oil or ethanol and/or 
resulting fires have occurred with increasing frequency (e.g., Dubuque, 
Iowa; Mt. Carbon, West Virginia; Casselton, North Dakota; Aliceville, 
Alabama; Lynchburg, Virginia; Columbus, Ohio; Cherry Valley, Illinois; 
Arcadia, Ohio; New Brighton, Pennsylvania). Since February 2015, an 
additional three incidents occurred in Ontario, Canada, two of which 
involved HHFTs.
    In light of FRA's preliminary findings with respect to the Galena, 
Illinois derailment (described further below), FRA believes that 
further industry action is necessary to ensure public safety. One area 
that FRA believes needs further industry consideration is the general 
mechanical condition of the equipment used in HHFTs. Thus, FRA is 
issuing this Safety Advisory to recommend that railroads take certain 
actions to ensure the safe mechanical condition of the tank cars used 
in HHFTs to prevent or identify defects that could lead to derailments.

Derailment Causes

    As discussed above, the most recent crude oil derailment occurred 
in March near Galena, Illinois. FRA's preliminary investigation 
indicates that a broken wheel on a tank car loaded with petroleum crude 
oil may have caused that derailment. Federal railroad safety 
regulations prohibit the use of railroad freight cars with certain 
wheel defects. 49 CFR 213.103. For example, flat spots on any freight 
car wheel that exceeds 2.5'' in length, or with two adjoining flat 
spots, each of which is more than two inches in length, would prohibit 
that car from being placed in a train and transported. 49 CFR 
215.103(f). This safety requirement is intended to prevent derailments 
and damage to other mechanical or track components that might occur as 
a result of moving a railroad car with flat spots in a wheel(s).
    With regard to wheels with flat spots, wheels with that particular 
defect impact the rail each time the flat portion of the wheel meets 
the rail as the wheel rotates. Flat spots or other wheel defects (built 
up tread) cause freight car wheels to be out-of-round and may 
ultimately cause a wheel to break. Further,

[[Page 23320]]

excessive wheel impacts caused by out-of-round wheels can cause rails 
to crack or break. Track defects are one of the leading causes of 
derailments. Several other notable derailments involving large 
quantities of flammable liquids that have occurred in this country so 
far this year (near Dubuque, Iowa and Mt. Carbon, West Virginia, 
respectively) are believed to have been track-caused, as was the 2014 
crude oil train derailment that occurred in Lynchburg, Virginia. FRA is 
not asserting that these incidents were caused by flat spots on wheels 
or other mechanical defects, but only that that wheel defects can cause 
derailments and can damage track to the point that a rail breaks and 
causes a derailment. FRA's intent in publishing this Safety Advisory is 
to address the mechanical condition of tank cars used in HHFTs to avoid 
or identify mechanical defects that may lead to derailments, regardless 
of whether the ultimate cause of an accident is the result of a 
mechanical, track, or other defect.

Wheel Impact Load Detectors

    Technology has enabled railroads to use additional means to learn 
of defects to freight cars and railroad track structures than were 
previously available. In relation to the issues in this Safety 
Advisory, the use of wayside detectors has specifically enabled 
railroads to identify certain wheel defects and prevent derailments 
before they occur. For example, hot wheel/box detectors have long been 
used to alert railroads and their train crews about potential wheel or 
axle problems while a train is enroute, such that the train can be 
inspected and cars with dangerous conditions removed from the train. 
Railroads also employ Wheel Impact Load Detectors (WILD) along their 
rights of way. These detectors identify wheels on a railcar that may 
have flat spots or other defects before a wheel can cause damage to 
railroad track structures.\5\

    \5\ See http://freightrailworks.org/wp-content/uploads/safety2.pdf.

    The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has established 
industry-wide standards regarding how freight cars with wheels that 
have peak vertical load (kips) above certain thresholds should be 
handled. See e.g., 2015 Field Manual of the AAR Interchange Rules. AAR 
guidance (Rule 41) states that when a freight car's wheel registers an 
impact on a wayside WILD of 65 kips or more, that the car's owner 
receives notification of that reading. When a wheel registers from 80 
to 89 kips on a WILD, that wheel is condemnable and may be replaced 
when the car is on a shop or repair track for any other reason. Any 
wheel that registers over 90 kips is condemnable and may be replaced at 
any time. FRA also understands that some railroads have adopted 
procedures that set an additional upper threshold whereby a reading 
above a certain level (140 kips) would require the train in which the 
car is traveling to be stopped, and the car removed from the train to 
be repaired immediately before further movement. FRA's investigation of 
the recent incident near Galena, Illinois indicates that the train in 
question had passed over a WILD within approximately 130 miles before 
derailing. It appears that the car that potentially caused the 
derailment registered 83.87 kips on that WILD (while another car in the 
train registered 96 kips). A month earlier, on February 2, 2015, the 
car that potentially caused the derailment also registered over 80 kips 
while passing over two separate WILDs. Under AAR interchange rules, the 
option existed for the car to have had a problematic wheel replaced 
when the car was next on a repair track, while the car that registered 
96 kips could have continued in transportation but been replaced at any 
    FRA continues to encourage the industry to implement this type of 
advanced wayside detection equipment and applauds the industry for its 
continued efforts to utilize the technology across the rail network. 
However, in light of the significant increases in the amount of Class 3 
flammable liquids being transported by rail over the last few years and 
because wheel defects are known not only to cause derailments but also 
to cause significant damage to rails, FRA is recommending that 
railroads (and AAR via amendment to its interchange rules) lower the 
impact threshold for action to replace the wheels on any car in a HHFT 
specified below. FRA is recommending adjustment to the following 
threshold levels:
     60 kips--issue maintenance advisory for the affected car;
     70 kips--change the wheel at the tank car's next visit to 
a repair or shop track;
     80 kips--condemn the wheel and replace at the first 
opportunity; and
     120 kips--immediately stop the train to inspect the wheel 
and remove the car from service at the first available location.
    FRA believes that in light of the significant increase in the 
number of HHFTs and the catastrophic consequences that can result when 
one of these trains experience a derailment, the industry needs to 
provide special attention to the mechanical condition of the tank cars 
being hauled in these trains. This is especially important while newer, 
more robust tank car standards are being developed. The adjustments 
recommended above may enable railroads to identify and replace wheel 
defects that could cause derailments much sooner than under the 
existing industry guidelines. FRA also continues to encourage the 
installation of additional WILD and other wayside detectors that might 
help prevent train derailments.
    FRA is aware that the speed at which a train travels over a WILD 
may impact the readings that are generated (e.g., a car traveling at 
lower speed may result in a much lower WILD reading than when the same 
car travels over a WILD at a higher speed). However, railroads should 
not operate HHFTs over a WILD below normal operating speeds to avoid an 
elevated WILD reading. FRA also encourages railroads to use electronic 
data interchange so that a railroad transporting a tank car in an 
affected train would have access to WILD readings generated by other 
railroads that have previously transported that car.

Mechanical Inspections

    Another area FRA believes industry could address to ensure the safe 
mechanical condition of rail cars used in HHFTs is mechanical 
inspections. Existing Federal railroad safety regulations that address 
mechanical and inspection requirements for freight cars are primarily 
found in 49 CFR parts 215 and 232. To detect mechanical defects such as 
wheels defects (before trains depart a terminal or point of origin) 
railroads are required to inspect railroad freight cars prior to 
transporting them in a train. 49 CFR 215.13. These inspections are 
referred to as pre-departure inspections and are typically performed by 
a designated inspector under Sec.  215.11. Section 215.11 requires that 
a designated inspector demonstrate the knowledge and ability to inspect 
railroad freight cars to determine compliance with 49 CFR part 215, 
including the ability to detect wheel defects under Sec.  215.103. 
However, if a designated inspector is not on duty, a railroad may use 
another person, often a train crew member, to perform an abbreviated 
inspection intended to detect readily discoverable defects (such as a 
cracked or broken wheel). These inspections are often referred to as 
``Appendix D'' inspections. See appendix D to 49 CFR part 215.
    In light of recent derailments involving HHFTs and the potential 
consequences of any future derailments,

[[Page 23321]]

FRA is recommending that any HHFT traveling long distances have a pre-
departure inspection performed by a designated inspector. Designated 
inspectors are typically mechanical employees. Unlike train crew 
members or other railroad employees, designated inspectors' duties 
primarily relate to the detection and remedy of mechanical defects on 
railroad rolling equipment. FRA believes that designated inspectors are 
better trained, equipped, and experienced to detect mechanical defects 
on rail cars that may lead to derailments than railroad employees whose 
duties primarily involve other tasks, such as operating trains. Thus, 
FRA believes safety is improved by using only designated inspectors to 
perform pre-departure inspections of HHFTs.
    In addition to the required pre-departure inspection that is 
performed on trains to determine compliance with part 215, trains also 
must undergo an air-brake and other mechanical-related inspections 
prior to transportation under 49 CFR part 232. In 2001, FRA promulgated 
a final rule (66 FR 4104) that established minimum inspection standards 
for ``extended haul'' trains that travel long distances (up to 1,500 
miles). 49 CFR 232.213. Railroads typically use the standards in Sec.  
232.213 to identify, inspect, and operate unit trains that travel long 
distances across the United States, such as coal trains and high 
priority intermodal trains. FRA believes that trains can be transported 
safety over such long distances if, among other requirements, quality 
mechanical inspections are performed to ensure that all air brakes in a 
train are operative at the point of origin, and that no mechanical 
defects exist prior to the train's departure. As explained in the final 
rule, Sec.  232.213 contains ``stringent inspection requirements, both 
brake and mechanical, by highly qualified inspectors'' that ensure the 
safety of trains operated over long distances under that section's 
requirements. 66 FR 4121.
    The brake inspection applicable to an extended haul train must be 
performed by a ``qualified mechanical inspector'' (QMI) as defined by 
Sec.  232.5, while the part 215 inspection is required to be performed 
by a designed inspector under Sec.  215.11 as discussed above. A QMI is 
required to receive instruction and training on the ``troubleshooting, 
inspection, testing, maintenance or repair of the specific train brake 
components and systems for which the person is assigned 
responsibility.'' 49 CFR 232.5. FRA believes that QMIs (versus other 
employees such as train crew members) possess the skill to perform high 
quality inspections and can identify defective conditions, know how 
those defects might affect other parts of the freight car's brake or 
mechanical systems, and know how such defects might be caused. 66 FR 
    In evaluating the recent incidents involving HHFTs, many of the 
trains were traveling uninterrupted (such as for reclassification at a 
yard) for long distances. For example, the recent crude oil derailments 
have involved trains transporting product from its source in North 
Dakota to refineries on the coasts--in some instances distances of well 
over 1,000 miles. FRA recognizes that many railroads already move these 
long distance trains as extended haul trains and conduct the mechanical 
and brake inspections discussed above. To assure the safety of HHFTs 
that might travel long distances, FRA recommends that such trains 
receive mechanical and brake inspections conducted by QMIs and 
designated inspectors. FRA believes that having these critical 
inspections conducted by highly qualified inspectors at the point where 
such trains are initiated will help ensure the safe mechanical 
condition of these trains.
    In seeking the appropriate approach to ensuring safety, FRA has 
also limited the recommendations in this Safety Advisory to HHFTs only 
and would have applied to all of the recent incidents described above. 
This threshold ensures that FRA is focusing on the highest risk 
shipments and not unnecessarily making safety-related recommendations 
that would impose undue burdens on lesser risks that do not represent 
the same safety and environmental concerns. However, FRA also supports 
additional safety-related inspections or measures that railroads wish 
to adopt, irrespective of commodity being hauled or the type of 
    Recommended Railroad Action: In light of the above discussion, FRA 
recommends for any HHFT that railroads:
    (1) Continue to install and maintain Wheel Impact Load Detectors 
(WILD) along routes traveled by affected trains, and adjust the 
existing industry standards for actions to be taken when wayside WILDs 
detect an impact above a certain threshold for an affected train. If a 
railroad receives notification of a wheel impact for a car in an 
affected train above the below-listed thresholds, at a minimum, take 
the following actions:
     60 kips--issue maintenance advisory to the car owner of 
the affected car;
     70 kips--change the wheel at the tank car's next movement 
onto a repair or shop track;
     80 kips--condemn the wheel and replace it at the first 
opportunity; and
     120 kips--immediately stop the train to inspect the wheel 
and remove the car from service at the first available location.
    (2) Conduct initial terminal brake inspections by qualified 
mechanical inspectors as defined in 49 CFR 232.5 and conduct freight 
car inspections at initial terminals with designated inspectors under 
49 CFR 215.11 for any affected train that will travel 500 miles or more 
from its initial terminal to destination.
    FRA encourages railroad industry members to take actions that are 
consistent with the preceding recommendations and to take other 
complementary actions to help ensure the safety of the Nation's 
railroad employees. FRA may modify this Safety Advisory, issue 
additional safety advisories, or take other appropriate actions 
necessary to ensure the highest level of safety on the Nation's 
railroads, including pursuing other corrective measures under its rail 
safety authority.

Sarah Feinberg,
Acting Administrator.
[FR Doc. 2015-09612 Filed 4-24-15; 8:45 am]