Oregon ramps up rail safety oversight

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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The Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) on August 28, 2015 approved an updated set of rules for transporting hazardous materials by rail. Combined with Oregon Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) addition of four Federal Railroad Administration-certified rail inspectors, the rules “aim to improve the state’s ability to prevent incidents and respond to them if they occur,” OTC said.

Emergency responders now are required to receive immediate notification from railroads for incidents involving hazardous materials. “Those notifications include information about the type, quantity and placement of any materials on the train,” OTC said. As well, railroads now must file quarterly reports with ODOT detailing shipments of hazardous materials. ODOT will share those reports with emergency responders. For each day that railroads fail to comply with the new rules, ODOT has the authority to assess penalties up to $1,000.

“The new rules specify the information is to be released under the state’s public records law, but allow some exemptions for trade secrets,” OTC said.

OTC said it will add four new staff members to bring the number of railroad inspectors who partner with and are certified by the FRA in overseeing the safety of Oregon’s rail system to 11. “When the four new-hires are certified by FRA, ODOT will have two inspectors in four of the five FRA disciplines—operating practices, hazardous materials, signal and train control, and motive power and equipment—and three inspectors in the fifth discipline—track inspection,” OTC said. “The Rail Division team decided to bring the track inspector total to three because statistics show that track-related defects are the most common cause of derailments.”

“We increased staffing in part because of national concerns about the increase in crude-by-rail shipments,” said ODOT Director Matthew Garrett. “With our new staff members, we will have specific discipline-trained inspectors on duty to cover the state even if an inspector is out sick or on vacation. These rules will help ensure that first responders get the information they need, when they need it, and agencies that need the information for planning purposes can also get it. The rules also provide a means for the public to get information they may need to be prepared in case of an incident.”

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