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Sunday, February 25, 2024
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FRA wants train crews equipped with more hazmat equipment

The Federal Railroad Administration is going ahead with a proposed rule that would ensure that the train crews involved in transporting hazardous materials have access to protective equipment should they need to respond to an accident on the train.

According to a March 22 notice in the Federal Register, FRA is seeking to amend existing regulations in order to require railroads to provide “an appropriate atmosphere-supplying emergency escape breathing apparatus to every train crew member and certain other employees while they are occupying a locomotive cab of a freight train transporting a hazardous material that would pose an inhalation hazard in the event of release during an accident.” This measure is in response to a congressional mandate, the notice said. 

National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy praised FRA’s action, saying that NTSB has been calling for such protective equipment for years. In a news release last week, NTSB cited a January 2005 train accident in which a train engineer and eight others died from inhaling chlorine gas from a breached tank car.

Following that accident, which entailed a Norfolk Southern train colliding with a parked NS train in Graniteville, South Carolina, NTSB had recommended providing emergency escape breathing apparatuses to train crews. 

That accident also involved the evacuation of more than 5,000 area residents for several days, with hundreds taken to hospitals for treatment, according to NTSB.

“I’m encouraged by FRA’s recent action under the leadership of Administrator Amit Bose to protect rail workers, all of whom deserve to be safe on the job,” Homendy said in Thursday’s news release. “The FRA has taken a significant step toward meeting this lifesaving NTSB recommendation and we hope the rulemaking process moves swiftly.” 

NTSB’s release noted that Congress first pushed FRA to act on providing crews with emergency equipment in 2008. FRA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in 2010 but no further action was taken. 

Thursday’s release also mentioned that NTSB has other safety recommendations for the rail industry. They include calling upon FRA and the Federal Transit Administration to require railroads to implement technology that warns roadway workers of approaching trains, as well as to develop work schedules and limitations based on science to prevent fatigued workers from being eligible for overtime. 

NTSB is also recommending that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) revise the regulations governing the spacing between train crews and rail cars carrying hazardous materials so that the distance is a minimum of five cars until PHMSA is able to determine an appropriate separation distance. 

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Related links:

NS, SMART-TD to hold off on conductor redeployment talks

NTSB issues preliminary reports on 2 Norfolk Southern incidents

NTSB and FRA to scrutinize Norfolk Southern’s ‘safety culture’

NTSB scrutinizing performance of tank car covers in NS derailment

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