On January 2, 2014, PHMSA issued a safety alert warning that Bakken crude oil may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil, and stressing the requirement that rail shipments be properly tested, characterized, degasified (if appropriate), and classified in appropriate packing group assignments.  The alert was prompted by preliminary inspections following recent railway accidents involving Bakken crude in Quebec, Alabama, and North Dakota, and follows PHMSA’s prior joint safety advisory with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on November 13, 2013.  PHMSA and FRA have undertaken a compliance initiative, dubbed “Operation Classification,” that involves unannounced inspections and testing of crude oil samples. PHMSA expects test results regarding the gas content, corrosivity, toxicity, flammability and other characteristics of Bakken crude to aid in proper characterization and classification prior to shipment.  In the meantime, the safety alert reminds offerors of their regulatory duty to complete their own tests to ensure proper classification.  These developments add to the growing focus on the risks of transporting crude by rail, versus shipment via pipeline.  About 700,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude is currently carried by rail, as pipeline capacity in the booming Bakken region has struggled to meet demand.  New safety and design standards for rail tanker cars are being considered, and requirements for testing and degasification capabilities at rail loading terminals also appear likely.  These shifting economic and regulatory factors will further influence the rail vs. pipeline debate.