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Rail News Home Federal Legislation & Regulation

May 2008

Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Federal rule fixates on hazardous-material routing

Next month, the onus will be on railroads to ensure they’re routing every hazardous material-carrying train on the safest and most secure route. A new federal interim final rule on rail haz-mat routing goes into effect June 1.

Introduced last month by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the rule requires railroads to conduct a comprehensive safety and security risk analysis of a haz-mat shipment’s primary route and practicable alternative routes. The analysis must consider information provided by local communities and a minimum of 27 risk factors, such as trip length, volume and haz-mat type.

On July 1, railroads must begin compiling information concerning the commodities they transport and routes to be used. They then must perform initial risk and route assessments, and implement routing decisions based on the analyses by September 2009.

Proceed with caution

Developed by the USDOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in consultation with the Federal Railroad Administration, the rule applies to railroads that move Poison Inhalation Hazard materials, such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia; more than 5,000 pounds of various explosives in a single carload; and certain high-level radioactive materials. The rule also addresses ways to guard against tampering with a haz-mat rail car en route.

The rule “better ensures that rail shipments of hazardous materials will reach their final destinations safely and without incident,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters in a prepared statement.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) welcomed the new rule because it addresses the safety and security of the communities railroads serve.

“But this does bring up a bigger issue, and that is the use of safer chemicals and technology,” said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Edward Hamberger. “The only way you can eliminate all of the risk of transporting toxic chemicals is if you don’t move them at all.”

A number of cities have stopped using chlorine to purify drinking water or treat wastewater the past few years, including Washington, D.C., or made the switch to other fertilizers as a substitute for anhydrous ammonia, he said.

“Between them, chlorine and anhydrous ammonia account for more than 80 percent of all toxic chemicals moving by rail,” said Hamberger.


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