Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Safety Recommendation Details

Safety Recommendation R-81-098
Details
Synopsis: ON MAY 22, 1981, SOUTHERN PACIFIC TRANSPORTATION COMPANY'S (SP) WESTBOUND EXTRA 9164 DERAILED 39 CARS AT SURF, CALIFORNIA, WHILE MOVING SUCCESSIVELY THROUGH A TWO DEGREE CURVE, A SHORT LENGTH OF TANGENT TRACK, AND A ONE DEGREE CURVE ON A 1-PERCENT DESCENDING GRADE. THE DERAILING CARS STRUCK AND DERAILED 20 CARS OF EASTBOUND SP EXTRA 8874, WHICH WAS STANDING ON A SIDE TRACK SOUTH OF THE MAIN TRACK, AND THE LOCOMOTIVE, 3 CARS, AND THE CABOOSE OF SP LOMPOC LOCAL EXTRA 1507, WHICH WAS STANDING ON A SIDE TRACK NORTH OF THE MAIN TRACK. ONE EMPLOYEE WAS INJURED SERIOUSLY, AND 13 OTHER EMPLOYEES AND 3 TRANSIENTS WERE TREATED AND RELEASED AT HOSPITALS. DAMAGE WAS ESTIMATED AT $1,552,522.
Recommendation: AS A RESULT OF ITS INVESTIGATION OF THIS ACCIDENT, THE SAFETY BOARD RECOMMENDS THAT THE MATERIALS TRANSPORTATION BUREAU OF THE RESEARCH AND SPECIAL PROGRAMS ADMINISTRATION: AMEND 49 CFR 174.25(C) TO REQUIRE THAT SHIPPERS SHOW ON SHIPPING PAPERS THE APPROXIMATE WEIGHT OF A HAZARDOUS MATERIAL CONTAINED IN A TANK CAR OFFERED BY THE SHIPPER TO A CARRIER AS AN "EMPTY" TANK CAR FOR MOVEMENT UNDER RULE 35 OF THE UNIFORM FREIGHT CLASSIFICATION TARIFF.
Original recommendation transmittal letter: PDF
Overall Status: Closed - Unacceptable Action
Mode: Railroad
Location: Surf, CA, United States
Is Reiterated: No
Is Hazmat: No
Is NPRM: No
Accident #: 79813
Accident Reports: Derailment of Southern Pacific Transportation Company Freight Train Extra 9164
Report #: RAR-81-08
Accident Date: 5/22/1981
Issue Date: 10/6/1981
Date Closed: 3/20/1987
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status: RSPA (Closed - Unacceptable Action)
Keyword(s): Hazmat

Safety Recommendation History
From: RSPA
To: NTSB
Date: 3/20/1987
Response: THIS IS ACTUALLY A FOLLOWUP AND THE FOLLOWING IS A HISTORY O PAST CORRESPONDENCE. NTSB'S OCTOBER 20, 1981, LETTER ADDRESSES RSPA'S ANPRM ON PLACARDING OF EMPTY CARS WHICH IS LINKED TO SUBJECT OF R-81-97 AND -98. RSPA'S MARCH 8, 1982, LETTER INDICATING THAT RSPA IS REVIEWING THE COMMENTS TO THE ANPRM. NT APRIL 7, 1983, LETTER REQUESTING PROGRESS ON PROPOSED RULEMAKING OR ACTIONS TAKEN TO ADDRESS THE RECOMMENDATION. RSPA'S JULY 1983, LETTER INDICATING THAT RSPA IS EXAMINING THE FEASIBILITY PROCEEDING WITH FURTHER RULEMAKING. NTSB'S SEPTEMBER 17, 19 LETTER ACKNOWLEDGING RSPS'S AUGUST 10, 1984 NPRM. NTSB'S NOVEMBER 6, 1984, COMMENTS ON RSPA'S NPRM, PLACARDING OF EMPTY TANK CARS.

From: NTSB
To: RSPA
Date: 3/20/1987
Response: In a letter dated October 20, 1981, the Safety Board acknowledged RSPA's Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), "Placarding of Empty Cars," Docket HM-180, published in the Federal Register on July 23, 1981, and we concurred that changes in regulations for the display of EMPTY placards on tank cars were needed. With that letter, we enclosed a copy of Safety Recommendations R-81-97 and -98 for RSPA's consideration in the rulemaking action. On July 14, 1983, RSPA informed the Safety Board that it had reviewed numerous comments received in response to the ANPRM and that its plan was to publish a new notice which would address the matter of empty tank cars in further detail. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), "Placarding Empty Tank Cars," was published in the Federal Register on August 10, 1984. Based on this NPRM, tank cars containing residual amounts of hazardous materials would have been placarded the same as loaded tank cars, and shipping papers for "empties" would have been required to contain the notation "Residual" or "Residual Last Contained , ' followed by the commodity name of the material remaining in the tank car. The Board supported the proposed changes but noted that the effectiveness of the proposed regulations would depend upon the railroads providing emergency personnel more comprehensive response information than had been provided in the past. Further, the Board emphasized that concerted education and training efforts by public response agencies and the railroads concerning the changes in the placarding of "empties" would be imperative if the improvements in communication of response information were to be realized. On September 26, 1985, RSPA issued a final rule for the placarding of "empties." The final rule established a RESIDUE placard for use on tank cars that have been "emptied." The use of this placard (except for DOT Specifications 106 and 110 tank cars) meant that a quantity of material no greater than 3 percent of the car's marked volumetric capacity remained in the tank car. The Board addressed this final rule in its report of a hazardous materials accident which involved the release of anhydrous hydrogen fluoride from a tank car at Conrail's Receiving Yard in Elkhart, Indiana, on February 4, 1985. In that report, the Board stated that while the new rule was an improvement over previous practice, further improvement was needed to accomplish the stated purpose. In this regard, the Board noted two shortcomings in the final rule which we believed needed to be addressed. First, although Safety Board investigators had been informed that the new rule was intended to be applied to material in the liquid form, we believed that this should be stated explicitly in the rule so as to eliminate the need for interpretation. Secondly, the Board believed that the new rule should be applied uniformly to all tank cars and, consequently, found no basis for the different treatment of DOT Specifications 106 and 110 tank cars. On March 17, 1986, RSPA published a notice of proposed rulemaking pertaining to the disposition of eight petitions for reconsideration which were filed as a result of the final rule issued under Docket HM-180 and published on September 26, 1985. In the March 17 notice, RSPA proposed to redefine "residue" by limiting it to liquids (excluding vapor and gases) and expanding the quantitative limitation from 3 percent to 4 percent with a tolerance of plus or minus 1 percent in order to provide shippers greater flexibility in their determination of compliance with the rule. Further, RSPA did not exclude Specifications 106 and 110 tank cars in the March 17 notice. On June 25, 1986, based on the comments received in response to the March 17 notice, RSPA published amendments to the final rule which served as RSPA's response to the eight petitions for reconsideration. The Safety Board is disappointed that the amendments to the final rule include a revision to the definition of residue contrary to that which was proposed in the March 17, 1986, notice. Further, the Board is somewhat surprised that RSPA's consideration of the eight petitions for reconsideration has resulted in a drastic change to a rule adopted a little more than a year ago; there was no indication in the March 17 notice that such a change was being considered. The Board believes that the new definition, which does not quantitatively specify the amount of residue which may remain in a tank car displaying a residue placard, has weakened considerably the final rule and is not in line with the intent of the Board's Safety Recommendations R-81-97 and -98. The Board had agreed with RSPA's comments in the March 17, 1986, notice that a quantitative requirement must be adopted in order to make the rule effective. A quantitative definition for the word residue would have provided emergency response personnel with accurate and consistent information regarding the maximum quantity of hazardous material that may remain in a tank car. In summary, the Board believes that the requirements, as currently amended, will result in little, if any, benefit to public emergency responders. Consequently, since the intent of Safety Recommendations R-81-97 and -98 has not been met, the Board has placed these recommendations in a "Closed-- Unacceptable Action" status.

From: NTSB
To: RSPA
Date: 9/17/1984
Response: The actions taken by RSPA to publish an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on July 23, 1981, and then to followup with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on August 10, 1984, are acceptable toward fulfilling the intent of these recommendations. The analysis of the use of the “EMPTY” placard as possibly communicating erroneous or confusing information and your proposal to eliminate its use conforms to the findings of the Safety Board during its investigation of the Surf, California, derailment. The Safety Board’s comments on Docket HM-180 Notice 84-6 will be transmitted to the dockets section of RSPA before the November 8, 1984, closing. Pending completion of the rulemaking action, Safety Recommendations R-81-97 and -98 will be held in an “Open-Acceptable Action” status.

From: RSPA
To: NTSB
Date: 7/14/1983
Response: RSPA LETTER: THANK YOU FOR YOUR LETTER OF APRIL 7, 1983, INQUIRING AS TO THE STATUS OF MTB/RSPA'S ADVANCE NOTICE OF PROPOSED RULEMAKING UNDER DOCKET HM-180, ENTITLED "PLACARDING OF EMPTY TANK CARS" PUBLISHED IN THE FEDERAL REGISTER ON JULY 23, 1981, AND OF MTB/RSPA ACTIONS TAKEN IN RESPONSE TO SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS R-81-97 AND R-81-98. A THOROUGH REVIEW OF THE MORE THAN FIFTY COMMENTS RECEIVED IN RESPONSE TO THE ADVANCE NOTICE HAS BEEN COMPLETED. THIS REVIEW HAS CONFIRMED THE COMPLEXITY OF THE ISSUE. AS POINTED OUT IN NTSB RECOMMENDATION R-81-98, RULE 35 OF THE UNIFORM FREIGHT CLASSIFICATION TARIFF PROVIDES A DEFINITION FOR AN EMPTY TANK CAR, I.E., A CAR IS CONSIDERED EMPTY IF IT CONTAINS THREE PERCENT OR LESS OF THE WEIGHT OF THE LAST LOADED MOVEMENT. THE NTSB RECOMMENDATION THAT SHIPPERS BE REQUIRED TO DISPLAY ON SHIPPING DOCUMENTS THE "APPROXIMATE" WEIGHT OF HAZARDOUS MATERIALS IN "EMPTY" TANK CARS WOULD, IN MANY CASES, INVOLVE CONSIDERABLE GUESSWORK AND RESULT IN LITTLE IMPROVEMENT BEYOND THE PRESENT REQUIREMENT OF THE HAZARDOUS MATERIALS REGULATIONS. THEREFORE, WE ARE EXAMINING THE FEASIBILITY OF PROCEEDING WITH FURTHER RULEMAKING TO PRECLUDE USE OF THE "EMPTY" PLACARD. IF A CAR CONTAINS ANY QUANTITY OF A HAZARDOUS MATERIAL, WE MAY DECIDE THAT IT MUST BE PLACARDED IN THE SAME MANNER AS REQUIRED WHEN IT IS FULL. IT IS OUR CURRENT PLAN TO PUBLISH A NEW NOTICE WHICH WILL ADDRESS THE MATTER OF EMPTY TANK CARS IN FURTHER DETAIL.

From: NTSB
To: RSPA
Date: 4/7/1983
Response: We have your letter of March 8, 1982, concerning MTB/RSPA’s ;tldvance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, “Placarding of Empty Cars,It Docket HM-180, which was published in the Federal Register on July 23, 1981. Our records show that we have not received information from your office as to the status of this proposed rulemaking or actions taken by your office to solve the problems addressed in these Safety Recommendations. We would appreciate a progress report on MTB/RSPA actions taken in response to Safety Recommendations R-81-97 and -98.

From: RSPA
To: NTSB
Date: 3/8/1982
Response: RSPA LETTER: NTSB SAFETY RECOMMENDATION R-81-98 CONCERNING PLACARDING OF EMPTY TANK CARS AND MODIFICATION OF SHIPPING PAPER REQUIREMENTS WERE ADDRESSED IN AN ADVANCE NOTICE OF PROPOSED RULEMAKING (ANPRM), DOCKET HM-180, PUBLISHED IN THE FEDERAL REGISTER ON JULY 23, 1981, AT PAGE 37953. THE ANPRM WAS ISSUED IN RESPONSE TO A PETITION SUBMITTED BY THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIRE CHIEFS FOR REMOVAL OF REQUIREMENTS FOR DISPLAY OF "EMPTY" PLACARDS ON TANK CARS. WE HAVE RECEIVED MORE THAN FIFTY COMMENTS ON THIS ANPRM AND ARE IN THE PROCESS OF EVALUATING THEM. WE SHALL KEEP YOU INFORMED ON THE STATUS OF THIS PETITION FOR RULEMAKING.

From: NTSB
To: RSPA
Date: 10/20/1981
Response: