New rule limits hazmat hauler rail crossings

A new final rule will bar hazmat drivers from entering highway-rail grade crossings unless there is enough space to drive completely through it without stopping.

Transporters of certain hazardous materials, agents and toxins must begin compliance with the regulation Oct. 25. Officials estimate the regulation will yield $946,000 in annual benefits from crashes avoided at highway-rail grade crossing.

In 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The Sept. 25 final rule included addressing requirements contained in the current omnibus surface transportation reauthorization.

The American Trucking Associations and the National Tank Truck Carriers said signs should be mandated at the 21,208 crossings that truckers cannot drive completely through without stopping. The FMCSA and the PHMSA said they lacked statutory authority for this mandate.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association commented the rule erroneously assumes drivers are aware of inadequate crossings. OOIDA and the Nebraska Department of Roads pointed out rural and industrial areas have many crossings lacking reasonable detour routes.

The officials acknowledged a hazmat driver in this situation could be forced to stop unexpectedly before clearing the track. “The agencies encourage enforcement discretion in those circumstances,” they wrote.

Carriers are mandated to provide route plans to hazmat drivers and this should include preparation for grade crossings “to the extent practicable.” The agencies advocated planning to include discussions train schedules with railroad companies, a practice of the specialized equipment hauling industry and a recommendation of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The rule acknowledges a NTSB finding that shippers and receivers sometimes are aware of logistical problems that they do not share with carriers. “Therefore, motor carriers and brokers should ask shippers and receivers about any logistical or physical challenges that might exist near, or on the roads leading to, loading and delivery locations,” the agencies responded.

Last June, the Federal Railroad Administration released a mobile phone application for Apple brand iPhone TM and iPad TM users. “Although this app will not provide complete information to ensure compliance with the rule, it will assist drivers in more strategically planning their routes,” they stated.

Click here to see the final rule.