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PHMSA seeks to suspend transport of LNG by rail tank cars

Suspension would last through June 2024 or until companion regulation is approved

PHMSA is consideing temporarily suspending a July 2020 governing LNG by rail. (Photo: JIm Allen/FreightWaves)

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is seeking comments on whether it should suspend a July 2020 rule enabling the transport of liquefied natural gas via rail tank cars.

The suspension would last either until June 30, 2024, or a separate, companion rulemaking on whether to approve modifications to the requirements governing LNG by rail is completed.

PHMSA, which is collaborating with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on this proposed rulemaking notice, is taking comments through Dec. 23.

The agency listed several reasons why it is exploring suspending the July 2020 rule, including accounting for ongoing federal and independent research efforts that are being conducted as part of the companion rulemaking; reducing potential economic burdens by those ordering rail tank cars in case current tank car requirements are modified via the companion rulemaking; avoiding risks to public health and safety or environmental consequences; and enabling opportunities to consider the perspectives of diverse stakeholders, according to a Monday notice in the Federal Register.

PHMSA noted that the rail transport of LNG could still be permitted in the interim on an ad hoc basis via a PHMSA special permit or through a portable tank secured to a rail car and pursuant to FRA approval. 

But the transport of LNG by rail as described in the July 2020 rule hasn’t happened yet and doesn’t appear likely to happen anytime in the near future.

“PHMSA does not expect temporary suspension of transporting LNG by rail tank car will have a material adverse impact on serious reliance interests. Despite issuance of the LNG by Rail final rule in July 2020, LNG has not been transported in rail tank cars, and PHMSA is unaware of any planned movements in the near future,” Monday’s notice said.  

It continued, “The development of the necessary infrastructure — in particular, construction of DOT-113C120W9 tank cars — to transport LNG by rail under the HMR demands significant financial investment, long-term commitment, and considerable planning. The DOT-113C120W9 tank car was introduced for LNG transport and would be impractical for use with other hazardous materials because another, more feasible specification (i.e., DOT-113C120W) is already available for other Class 2 cryogenic flammable liquids that are authorized to be transported by rail. Therefore, a dedicated LNG tank car fleet would need to be built, and there may be construction delays because of limited capacity in the rail car manufacturing industry. At this time, PHMSA is unaware of any orders having been placed for manufacture of new DOT-113C120W9 tank cars.”

PHMSA also noted that plans by New Fortress Energy to haul LNG via trains for export off the U.S. Northeast coast are on hold as its proposed facility in Pennsylvania is awaiting approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. New Fortress Energy had been granted a special permit to transport LNG by rail.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.