On August 2, 2013 the Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”) released Emergency Order No. 28, Notice No. 1 and Safety Advisory 2013-06 in response to the July 2013 tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada where a cargo train derailed, exploding portions of the 72 cars of petroleum crude oil it carried. The explosion killed 47 people and damaged 40 buildings in the small lake town. Investigators have determined that a number of factors when into causing this accident: for example, the nearly mile-long train was conducted by one person, and left unattended with insufficient braking despite the fact that the train rested on a hill. The investigation is ongoing.

The FRA requires that all railroad operators comply with this Emergency Order within 30 days of its issuance if any train operation consists of 20 rail car loads or intermodal portable tank loads holding a Class 3 (UN1267) flammable liquid or combustible liquid, such as petroleum crude oil. The Emergency Order contains the following new regulations.

  • No train transporting hazardous materials (including Class 3 materials) may be left unattended unless previously authorized.
  • If a railroad company does wish to leave its cars unattended, that company must develop a process – and then seek FRA approval of such a plan – that will ensure security of unattended trains.
  • Before leaving the train unattended, any employee of a railroad company operating a train holding hazardous materials must communicate with the train dispatcher concerning security steps, such as the number of handbrakes applied, the grade and terrain features of the track. This information must be recorded.
  • Employees involved in securing a train must participate in daily briefings on the work performed to ensure train security.
  • A qualified railroad employee must inspect all equipment that  an emergency responder has been on, under or between before the train may be left unattended.
  • Railroad companies must furnish all employees with a copy of the Emergency Order.

This Emergency Order will impact all railroad companies carrying petroleum products. However, as demand for domestic production has exceeded the availability of intranational pipelines, and attempts to erect international pipelines have been stalled at the federal level, oil and gas exploration companies will continue to rely on train transport to move mineral deposits extracted from North American shale.