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Regulatory Update

The Risks and Rewards of Transporting LNG By Rail

Wade Narin van Court | February 4, 2020

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) proposed regulations to allow transporting Methane, Refrigerated Liquid (i.e., Liquefied Natural Gas [LNG]) by rail and the comment period for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) closed on January 13, 2020.


The proposed regulations were developed in response to a petition from the Association of American Railroads (AAR) stating the change is needed to remove unnecessary restrictions on safe and efficient transportation of energy products, meet increasing demand for LNG for domestic use and overseas, and to reduce highway transportation of LNG.

Furthermore, PHMSA states these changes in the regulations will comply with Executive Orders for regulatory reform and energy independence.

PHMSA considers the proposed regulatory changes would be limited to amending the Hazardous Materials Table in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 172.101 (49 CFR 172.101) to include a row for Methane, Refrigerated Liquid and amending paragraph 49 CFR 173.319 (d)(2) and the associated table to include methane with the other cryogenic liquids currently addressed by this regulation.

PHMSA proposes to authorize only DOT–113C120W tank cars for use in transporting LNG, because these tank cars are currently used to transport another flammable cryogenic liquid with similar chemical and operating characteristics to LNG (e.g., ethylene).

The AAR petition noted that DOT–113C120W tank cars should provide 40 days in transportation before the LNG might vent, so AAR also requested the use of DOT–113C140W tank cars, which should provide 45 days in transportation before the LNG might vent.

PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) did not approve the DOT–113C140W tank cars, noting a complete engineering review of this specification is warranted and more research and supporting data are needed to demonstrate this tank car’s safety for transporting LNG.

Furthermore, PHMSA will rely on trains transporting LNG operating in compliance with AAR Circular OT-55, which establishes operational controls for trains transporting certain quantities of hazardous materials, including LNG (i.e., key trains).

However, PHMSA is not proposing to incorporate Circular OT–55 or adopt requirements for key trains in the regulations.  In addition, PHMSA is not proposing to consider LNG trains as High Hazard Flammable Trains (HHFT) or incorporate other restrictions on LNG routes or the number of LNG cars in a consist.

What Would LNG Rail Transport Entail?

Before a railroad starts transporting LNG, the company will need to be aware of other regulatory requirements that may impact their operations.  Specifically, parked railroad cars containing hazardous substances, such as LNG, are considered “stationary sources” after a few days of sitting idle (even in a rail yard or on a siding while in transit) and the “incident to transportation” exemption would not apply.

That means the regulatory requirements of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Risk Management Program, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards, and/or OSHA Process Safety Management would apply to the parked tank cars.

Additionally, new infrastructure for LNG liquefaction, regasification, and/or storage would face similar challenges to those for a new LNG peak shaving facility on a gas distribution system.

I’m Considering LNG Transport. Is There Anything I Can Do Right Now to Be Prepared? 

It’s difficult to say without a final decision in hand but the first logical step is to assess policies and procedures for transporting LNG to reduce potential liabilities and to determine what, if any, infrastructure on railroad property should be permitted. TRC will review PHMSA’s final rulemaking when it is published and describe changes, if any, from the proposed regulations, as well as the effective date of the new regulations.

More News to Consider

Of the 444 public comments posted, one of the most notable was from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  In their comments, the NTSB states there is insufficient safety data for the DOT–113C120W tank cars to support allowing them to be used for transporting LNG by rail. The NTSB also states PHMSA should require trains transporting LNG to be subject to the same operational controls currently in place for HHFT due to the potential hazards created by an accident involving LNG tank cars.

Another important thing to note: the results from an FRA study of the survivability of DOT-113 tankers engulfed in an LNG pool fire, as well as tests of the crashworthiness of these tank cars, are not expected to be available before May 2020. Those results could shed more light on the safety of LNG rail transport and affect final rulemaking.

Nevertheless, preparing now will ensure regulatory and operational success if and when the new rules are finalized, which could bring both big risks and big rewards for rail owners and operators.

For more information, please contact me and click below to learn more about how TRC can help answer your questions.

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Wade Narin van Court, Ph.D, PE

Wade Narin van Court has more than 34 years of consulting experience for a variety of government and private sector clients and facilities, with expertise in oil/chemical release prevention and response; homeland security and emergency preparedness; regulatory compliance and permitting; and geotechnical, environmental, and civil engineering. Wade has assisted clients in the transportation, maritime, oil and gas, and industrial/commercial sectors with a wide range of consulting services for all phases of their operations. Wade has a Ph.D and M.S. in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley and a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Washington. Contact Wade at

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