Department of Transportation publishes heightened standards for railcars transporting crude oil

On May 1, 2015, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) released its final rules governing the transportation of oil by rail. The new rules apply to railcars transporting high-hazard flammable materials and largely correlate with the heightened standards applicable in Canada. The new rules are set to go into effect on October 1, 2015.

The DOT made several changes to the final rules in light of the comments it received in response to the proposed rule. For example, the DOT extended the deadline by which DOT-111 railcars must be retrofitted or replaced to three years rather than two years. As for the CPC-1232 railcars, companies will have five years to retrofit or replace those cars if the railcars do not have insulating jackets that satisfy the heightened requirements.

After October 1, 2015, all new railcars must comply with the DOT-117 standard. To satisfy the DOT-117 standard, railcars must have thicker shells, insulated jackets, updated pressure relief valves, and improved thermal protection. In addition, trains with at least 70 railcars that are carrying Class 3 flammable liquids, the most volatile category, must now have pneumatic braking systems before January 1, 2021. Trains merely transporting other flammable liquids only need to install the braking systems by 2023. The new rules also establish a speed limit of 50 mph. If the railcar doesn’t comply with the updated standards set forth in the rules, the railcar must comply with a 40-mph speed limit in urban areas.

Thus far, the new rules have received a significant amount of criticism. Environmentalists have argued that the rules are not sufficiently stringent. A number of environmental groups advocated for the immediate ban of the older DOT-111 railcars. Members of the oil and gas industry have argued that the cost to comply with the rules is excessive and that the deadline for retrofitting the railcars could result in a shortage of railcars. Others have argued that the new braking systems will not help in reducing accidents. The final rules will certainly be challenged. Some commentators have suggested that the new rules would not withstand judicial scrutiny, despite the favorable standard of review, because the DOT lacks supporting authority for the requirements.

Read the final rules.

This post was written by Barclay Nicholson ( or 713 651 3662) and Johnjerica Hodge ( or 713 651 5698) from Norton Rose Fulbright's Energy Practice Group.