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Rail News: Safety

Quebec accident: FRA issues emergency order and safety advisory; crew-size bill enters Congress


The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Friday issued an emergency order and safety advisory to help prevent trains operating on mainline tracks or sidings from moving unintentionally. The actions are in response to the deadly Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) derailment that occurred July 6 in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, FRA officials said in a press release.

"Safety is our top priority. While we wait for the full investigation to conclude, the department is taking steps today to help prevent a similar incident from occurring in the United States," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The emergency order outlines the following measures that all railroads must undertake within the next 30 days:

• No train or vehicles transporting specified hazardous materials can be left unattended on a mainline track or side track outside a yard or terminal, unless specifically authorized.
• To receive authorization to leave a train unattended, railroads must develop and submit to the FRA a process for securing unattended trains transporting hazardous materials, including locking the locomotive or otherwise disabling it, and ensuring the correct number of hand brakes are applied.
• Employees who are responsible for securing trains and vehicles transporting specified hazardous materials must communicate to train dispatchers the number of hand brakes applied, a train's or vehicle's tonnage and length, track's grade and terrain features, any relevant weather conditions and the type of equipment being secured.
• Dispatchers must record the information provided, and the dispatcher or other qualified railroad employee 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, and must provide the emergency order to all affected employees.

Along with the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the FRA also issued a safety advisory detailing a list of recommendations railroads are expected to follow, such as that railroads review their crew staffing requirements for transporting hazardous materials and ensure they are adequate; conduct systemwide evaluations to identify particular hazards that may make it more difficult to secure a train or pose other safety risks; and develop procedures to mitigate those risks.

As the FRA continues to evaluate safety procedures following the derailment, it plans to convene an emergency meeting of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee to consider what additional safety measures might be required. In addition, the FRA plans to develop a website that would allow the public to track industry compliance with the emergency order and safety advisory.

"[The actions] build upon a comprehensive regulatory framework we have had in place for some time," said FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo.

U.S. freight railroads will implement the new emergency order for the movement of hazardous materials, including crude and ethanol, Association of American Railroads (AAR) officials said in a statement issued after the FRA's announcement.

Freight railroads for decades have followed a set of self-prescribed recommended safety operating practices for handling certain hazardous materials, which in many areas exceed federal requirements, said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger.

"We appreciate the steps the FRA has taken to help advance the safety of moving hazardous materials via rail," he said. "Railroads will examine what additional steps might be appropriate to ensure rail continues to be one of the safest ways to move hazardous materials."

The FRA is encouraged by the rail industry's willingness to cooperate with the new approach, said Szabo.

"The safe shipment of all cargo is paramount and protecting the safety of the American public is fundamental to our enforcement strategy," he said.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation International Association (SMART) and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) on Friday jointly announced that legislation was introduced in Congress that would require at least two crew members on all freight trains in the United States.

Reps. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) are the initial sponsors of the bill, which hasn't yet been assigned a number and is expected to be considered by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The legislation "reflects heightened concerns" over crew size arising from the MMA derailment, SMART and BLET officials said in a joint statement, adding that the MMA train was crewed by one person.

"The American people are justifiably concerned that the single-person crewing practice used on MMA and some other short line railroads places the public safety at risk," said BLET National President Dennis Pierce.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 8/5/2013