FRA Issues SNPRM for Emergency Escape Breathing Apparatus Standards

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
image description

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on March 22 released a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SNPRM) to expand occupational noise exposure regulations and require railroads to provide locomotive crews with appropriate “atmosphere-supplying emergency escape breathing apparatuses” when their trains transport hazardous material.

After fatalities resulted from the inhalation of chlorine gas following rail accidents in Macdona, Tex., and Graniteville, S.C., in 2004 and 2005, respectively, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a recommendation that FRA require railroads to provide emergency escape breathing apparatuses (EEBAs) to their crewmembers, FRA reported in the Federal Register (download below). Subsequently, in October 2008, Congress enacted the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, and “Section 413 mandated that FRA issue regulations requiring railroads to provide EEBA, and training in their use, for train crews in the locomotive cabs of any freight train transporting a hazardous material in commerce that would present an inhalation hazard in the event of a release,” according to FRA.

FRA reported that it first issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in October 2010. “Based on the cost-benefit analysis in the NPRM, and the comments received in response to the NPRM,” the agency issued a guidance document rather than a final rule in December 2016. According to FRA, it “intended for railroads to use the guidance document to develop EEBA programs to protect railroad employees involved in transporting hazardous materials posing an inhalation hazard. However, NTSB found that the guidance document did not satisfy its recommendation, and the statutory mandate remains in place.” FRA said its SNPRM reopens the matter to public comment and continues toward a final rule as required by statute.

According to the SNPRM, the provision of EEBAs should be focused on hazardous materials that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration identifies as “materials poisonous by inhalation,” or PIH materials, such as chlorine gas, anhydrous ammonia, ethylene oxide, and anhydrous hydrofluoric acid, which together make up more than 90% of PIH material shipments by rail.

Additionally, the SNPRM proposes railroads that transport a PIH material “establish and carry out programs for: selection, procurement, and provision of EEBAs; inspection, maintenance, and replacement of EEBAs; and instruction of employees in the use of EEBAs. Railroads would be required to identify individual employees or positions to be placed in their general EEBA programs so that a sufficient number of EEBAs are available and to ensure that the identified employees or incumbents of the identified positions know how to use the devices. This SNPRM would require railroads provide for storage of EEBAs in locomotive cabs to enable employees to access the apparatus quickly in the event of a release of a hazardous material that poses an inhalation hazard.”

Railroads would be able to distribute EEBAs in one of three ways:

  1. Option 1: Employee Assignment. EEBAs are assigned to all covered employees and considered part of their equipment.
  2. Option 2: Locomotive Assignment. EEBAs are assigned to and kept in locomotives. According to FRA, there are approximately 24,000 locomotives owned by the Class I railroads. The agency estimated that at least three EEBAs would have to be available in each locomotive for use by the conductor, the engineer and an additional covered employee.
  3. Option 3: Equipment Pooling. EEBAs are pooled at rail yards and kept in storage lockers where employees would check-in and check-out the EEBA when PIH is being hauled.

For all three options, FRA developed estimates using a closed-circuit EEBA:

Total 10-Year Costs (2021 Dollars) (Chart Courtesy of FRA)

In the SNPRM, FRA is also proposing to change the name of its regulations from “Occupational Noise Exposure” to “Occupational Safety and Health in the Locomotive Cab.”

All comments are due by June 20, 2023.

Tags: , , , ,