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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: Pending completion of the risk evaluation and action in accordance with its findings prescribed in Safety Recommendation R-17-01, withdraw regulatory interpretation 06-0278 that pertains to 49 Code of Federal Regulations 174.85 for positioning placarded rail cars in a train and 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, regardless of train length and consist.
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: PHMSA appreciates NTSB 's concern and efforts regarding the separation of hazardous materials from train crews. However, withdrawing the regulatory interpretation referenced in this safety recommendation in and of itself will not satisfy the intent. PHMSA' s letters of interpretation are informal clarification of the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR; 49 CFR Parts 171-180) to assist the regulated community in better understanding and complying with the HMR. These letters reflect the administration's current application of the HMR to the specific facts presented by the person or entity requesting the clarification. Informal interpretations may not exceed the minimum legal requirements of the HMR. Given the current regulatory language at 49 CFR 174.85 ("When train length does not permit, placarded car must be placed near the middle of the train, but not nearer than the second car from an engine or occupied caboose''), withdrawing letter of interpretation Reference No. 06-0278 would not set the separation distance requirement for all trains at five non-placarded cars. PHMSA will evaluate the risk to train crews and potential safety benefits of modifying the separation distance, as recommended under R-17-01, before considering what-if any-actions are appropriate to ensure sufficient separation distance between hazardous materials cars and occupied locomotives and equipment.
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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