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On Monday, December 30, 2013, at 2:10 p.m. central standard time, a westbound BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) train with 112 cars loaded with grain derailed 13 cars while traveling on main track 1 at milepost 28.5 near Casselton, North Dakota.1 The first car that derailed (the 45th car) fouled the adjacent track, main track 2. At 2:11 p.m. an eastbound BNSF train with 104 tank cars loaded with petroleum crude oil (crude oil), traveling on main track 2, struck the derailed car that was fouling the track and derailed two head-end locomotives, a buffer car, and 20 cars loaded with crude oil.2 After the collision, about 476,000 gallons of crude oil were released and burned. (See figure 1.) On the day of the accident, the weather was cloudy with a temperature of -1°F and winds from the north at 7 mph. No injuries were reported by residents or either of the train crews. The BNSF reported damages of $13.5 million, not including lading and environmental remediation.
TO THE PIPELINE AND HAZARDOUS MATERIALS SAFETY ADMINISTRATION: Evaluate the risks posed to train crews by hazardous materials transported by rail, determine the adequate separation distance between hazardous materials cars and locomotives and occupied equipment that ensures the protection of train crews during both normal operations and accident conditions, and collaborate with the Federal Railroad Administration to revise 49 Code of Federal Regulations 174.85 to reflect those findings.
Original recommendation transmittal letter:
Open - Acceptable Response
Casselton, ND, United States
Accident Invoving Two Freight Trains
Railroad Accident Brief: BNSF Railway Train Derailment and Subsequent Train Collision, Release of Hazardous Materials, and Fire
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status:
PHMSA (Open - Acceptable Response)
Safety Recommendation History
We note that you will further review the literature about separation distances between hazardous materials cars and occupied locomotives, and we point out that, for the purposes of Safety Recommendation R 17-1, the term “accident condition” can be defined as any event that is opposite of normal train operations, such as derailment, impact, or leakage/seepage from a tank car or other type of railcar, which may cause an accident. We are aware that you collaborated with the FRA and other stakeholders to address the issue of seperation distances, but were not able to reach consensus on exactly what seperation distances are needed. This is why we asked that 49 CFR 174.85 be modified so that all trains have a minimum of five nonplacarded cars between any locomotive or occupied equipment and the nearest placarded car transporting hazardous materials, regardless of train length and consist. We note that you have made progress in your regulations regarding hazardous materials transport; however, more must be done to address separation distances to ensure train crews are protected during both normal operations and in accident conditions. Pending the results of your literature review and successful collaboration with the FRA to revise 49 CFR 174.85 to require that all trains have a minimum of five nonplacarded cars between any locomotive or occupied equipment and the nearest placarded car transporting hazardous materials, Safety Recommendations R-17-1 and -2 are classified OPEN--ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.
-From Howard W. McMillan, Acting Deputy Administrator: The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) concurs with the recommendation and will evaluate the risks posed to train crews and the parameters of separation distance between hazardous materials cars and occupied locomotives and equipment. PHMSA will initiate a literature review to identify gaps and changes in factors from previous and current studies, as well as a more in-depth analysis of quantitative and qualitative factors. To better determine the adequate separation distance, PHMSA respectfully requests further clarification of the term "accident conditions." Additionally, PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will consider alternate approaches to separation distance requirements, such as the impact of developing a performance-based standard relative to the measured distance from the nearest car containing a hazardous material, rather than a specified number of rail cars ("buffer cars"). As locomotives and rail cars often differ in length, an adequate separation distance can be achieved using fewer buffer cars, rather than a more prescriptive requirement specifying the number of buffer cars. PHMSA has a documented history of considering adequate separation distance in previous correspondence with NTSB in relation to Safety Recommendation R-08-13, which was closed March 9, 2017. Notably, PHMSA and FRA recently collaborated under the scope of the Rail Safety Advisory Committee Hazardous Materials Issues Working Group Task No. 15-04 to address the issue of separation distance. Ultimately, due to stakeholder disagreement and a lack of established incident data, the members did not meet a consensus. Moreover, PHMSA worked with Volpe, The National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe) in its review of rail accidents occurring between 2006 and 2015 where there was a release of hazardous materials near the head end of the train. The study found no reported crew injuries and therefore no injuries that were potentially preventable with additional buffer cars. Volpe determined that in the absence of an incident record, the safety impacts and cost-effectiveness of additional buffer cars would need to be argued qualitatively and/or subjected to more in-depth probabilistic modeling. Through further evaluation, PHMSA will consider additional factors subsequent to Volpe's review, including the safety impact of the final rule titled, "Hazardous Materials: Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains" ([HM-251]; 80 FR 71952). PHMSA will work with FRA throughout this process and update NTSB accordingly.
On February 7, 2017, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) adopted its report concerning the December 30, 2013, accident in which an eastbound BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) train with 104 tank cars loaded with petroleum crude oil struck a car that had fouled the eastbound track when a westbound BNSF train derailed 13 cars loaded with grain.1 Additional information about this accident and the resulting recommendations may be found in the report of the investigation, which can be accessed at our website (NTSB website) under report number RAB-17/03. As a result of this investigation, we reclassified three safety recommendations to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and one to the Federal Railroad Administration, and we issued three new recommendations, including one to the Federal Railroad Administration and two to PHMSA.
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