Order Seeks to Prevent Unintended Movement of Hazmat Trains

Among other things, railroad employees responsible for securing trains must tell train dispatchers the number of hand brakes applied, the tonnage and length of the train, the grade and terrain features of the track, any relevant weather conditions, and the type of equipment being secured.

U.S. railroads have been ordered to take steps within 30 days to ensure trains moving hazardous materials do not move while unattended and possibly cause a disaster similar to the July 6 derailment and fire in Lac-Mégantic, Canada. The Federal Railroad Administration issued an Emergency Order and Safety Advisory on Aug. 5 meant to make sure trains operating on mainline tracks or sidings do not move unintentionally.

FRA's announcement said the order was made in response to the Lac-Mégantic event while it awaits additional data once the investigation of that derailment is complete.

The order says all railroads must ensure, within 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.
  • In order to receive authorization to leave a train unattended, railroads must develop and submit to FRA a process for securing unattended trains transporting hazmats, including locking the locomotive or otherwise disabling it, and reporting among employees to ensure the correct number of hand brakes are applied.
  • Employees who are responsible for securing trains and vehicles transporting such specified hazardous material must communicate with the train dispatchers the number of hand brakes applied, the tonnage and length of the train or vehicle, the grade and terrain features of the track, any relevant weather conditions, and the type of equipment being secured.
  • Train dispatchers must record that information, 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 perform those tasks.
  • 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.
  • Railroads must provide the Emergency Order to all affected employees.

"Today's action builds upon a comprehensive regulatory framework we have had in place for some time," FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo said Aug. 5. "The safe shipment of all cargo is paramount and protecting the safety of the American public is fundamental to our enforcement strategy, and we are encouraged by the industry's willingness to cooperate with this approach going forward."

FRA also will convene an emergency meeting of its Railroad Safety Advisory Committee to consider additional safety measures.

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