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Rail News: Safety
Heitkamp introduces bill, helps secure Senate funding to assist first responders
U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) on June 27 announced that funding to train first responders on incidents involving hazardous materials transported by rail has been included in a Senate appropriations bill.
The Senate Appropriations Committee included $2 million in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s fiscal-year 2015 appropriations for the training.
The funding announcement came several days after Heitkamp introduced the Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) Act, which would establish a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) panel focused on railroad incident first responders. The RESPONSE bill would ensure first responders in communities near railroad tracks receive quality training, and have access to the appropriate resources and effective communications, Heitkamp said in a press release.
"Our first goal is to make sure derailments don’t happen, but we must also make sure that if they do, our brave first responders have the resources they need to safely respond to the emergency," she said. "I crafted this legislation to bring all the relevant players together to find more efficient ways for our communities across the country to be prepared for incidents that could occur from the increased transport of energy by rail."
The FEMA panel would be tasked with bringing together all the relevant federal agencies, emergency responders, technical experts and private-sector stakeholders for a review of training, resources, best practices and unmet needs related to emergency responders to railroad haz-mat incidents. Heitkamp believes the safety issue needs heightened attention because the number of rail cars carrying crude oil on major U.S. railroads grew more than 6,000 percent between 2008 and 2013, according to the American Association of Railroads.
Meanwhile U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) last week sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stressing that first responders need more timely and detailed information about crude-by-rail trains to better protect communities.
The senators urged the U.S. Department of Transportation to use the information, as well as recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board, to improve crude-by-rail safety, primarily by requiring increased communication between railroads and local communities.
"As we near the one-year anniversary of the tragic oil train accident in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, we remain concerned that first responders in Oregon and elsewhere in the country have inadequate information to protect their communities from potential accidents involving crude-by-rail trains," the senators wrote.
A federal emergency order issued on May 7 — which currently applies only to Bakken oil transported in quantities exceeding 1 million gallons — needs to be expanded, Wyden and Merkley believe.
"Public safety officials should be made aware of all crude-by-rail routes and have the option to access information about all crude-by-rail shipments, regardless of size or origin," the senators wrote. "We believe these examples demonstrate that non-Bakken oil shipments of crude, and crude trains carrying less than 1,000,000 gallons pose an imminent hazard."
Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.