FRA issues Emergency Order, Safety Advisory in Lac-Mégantic’s wake

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

The Federal Railroad Administration issued an Emergency Order (EO 28, Notice No. 1, 49 CFR 232.103[n]) and Safety Advisory (2013-06) Friday evening, Aug. 2, 2013, “to help prevent trains operating on main line tracks or sidings from moving unintentionally,” specifically, those hauling certain types of hazardous materials, such as crude oil and ethanol.

FRA said its actions were undertaken in response to the July 6, 2013 runaway and derailment of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic crude oil train in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that resulted in a massive explosion and fire, decimation of the town’s business district, and approximately 50 fatalities.

FRA said it is “awaiting additional data once the investigation into the crash is complete” to determine if any further actions, such as a new rulemaking that augments existing regulations, will be undertaken. Under current regulations, all freight railroads are required to develop and implement risk assessments and security plans in order to transport any hazardous material, including a plan to prevent unauthorized access in rail yards, facilities, and trains carrying hazardous materials. Railroads that carry hazardous materials are required to develop and follow a security protocol while en route; railroad employees are subject to background checks and must complete training. Training programs and protocols are reviewed and audited by the FRA routinely and are “generally designed to be progressive so as the level of risk increases so does the level of security required,” FRA said.

“The Emergency Order is a mandatory directive to the rail industry, and failure to comply will result in enforcement actions against violating railroads,” FRA said. It mandates the following measures, which all railroads must undertake within the next 30 days:

• No train or vehicles transporting specified hazardous materials can be left unattended on a main line track or side track outside a yard or terminal, unless specifically authorized.

• In order to receive authorization to leave a train unattended, railroads must develop and submit to FRA a process for securing unattended trains transporting hazardous materials, including locking the locomotive or otherwise disabling it, and reporting among employees to ensure the correct number of hand brakes are applied.

• Employees who are responsible for securing trains and vehicles transporting such specified hazardous material must communicate with the train dispatchers the number of hand brakes applied, the tonnage and length of the train or vehicle, the grade and terrain features of the track, any relevant weather conditions, and the type of equipment being secured.

• Train dispatchers must record the information provided. The dispatcher or other qualified railroad employee must verify that the securement meets the railroad’s requirements, and they must verify that the securement meets the railroad’s requirements.

• Railroads must implement rules ensuring that any employee involved in securing a train participate in daily job briefings prior to the work being performed. Railroads must develop procedures to ensure a qualified railroad employee inspects all equipment that an emergency responder has been on, under or between before the train can be left unattended.

• Railroads must provide the EO to all affected employees.

In addition to the Emergency Order, the FRA, together with the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), issued a Safety Advisory detailing a list of recommendations railroads are expected to follow. “U.S. DOT believes that railroad safety is enhanced through the use of multiple crew members, and the Safety Advisory recommends railroads review their crew staffing requirements for transporting hazardous material and ensure that they are adequate,” FRA said. Other recommendations in the Safety Advisory include: conducting systemwide evaluations to identify particular hazards that may make it more difficult to secure a train or pose other safety risks, and to develop procedures to mitigate those risks.

FRA said it will convene an emergency meeting of its Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) “to consider what additional safety measures may be required. We plan to develop a website that will allow the public to track industry compliance with the Emergency Order and Safety Advisory issued today. FRA has developed a plan that outlines six major actions that have occurred or will occur to further ensure that our regulatory response to the Canadian rail accident remains transparent.”

The Association of American Railroads issued the following statement in response to the Emergency Order and Safety Advisory:

“We appreciate the steps the FRA has taken to help advance the safety of moving hazardous materials via rail. Freight railroads have had, for decades, a set of self-prescribed recommended safety operating practices for handling certain hazardous materials, which in many areas exceed federal requirements. Consistent with today’s order from FRA, the industry will review its own operating practices to find even more ways to enhance safety. Railroads are always looking for ways to make this nation’s rail network safer for our employees, our communities, and the environment. We will implement what has been issued by the FRA today and examine what additional steps might be appropriate to ensure that rail continues to be one of the safest ways to move hazardous materials.”

FRA said that the Emergency Order and Safety Advisory “builds on the success of our rigorous safety program, which has helped reduce train accidents by 43% over the past decade, and made 2012 the safest year in American rail history.”

“Today’s action builds upon a comprehensive regulatory framework we have had in place for some time,” said FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. “The safe shipment of all cargo is paramount, and protecting the safety of the American public is fundamental to our enforcement strategy. We are encouraged by the industry’s willingness to cooperate with this approach.”

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