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Blog: Emergency Order Another Step Forward in Rail Safety

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Our Federal Railroad Administration has helped reduce train accidents by 43 percent over the last decade; their work helped make 2012 the safest year in American rail history. But when safety is your number one priority, there's no resting. Last Friday, the FRA took another step forward in rail safety, issuing an Emergency Order and Safety Advisory to help prevent unattended trains carrying hazardous materials from moving unintentionally.

Friday's announcement was made in response to the tragic July 6 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. While the full investigation has not yet to concluded, we can't afford to wait to take steps that would help prevent a similar incident from occurring here in the U.S. The American people deserve no less.

The Emergency Order outlines measures that all railroads must undertake within the next 30 days:

- No train or vehicles transporting specified hazardous materials can be left unattended outside a yard or terminal, unless specifically authorized.
- To receive authorization to leave a train unattended, railroads must develop and submit to FRA a process for securing unattended trains transporting hazardous materials, 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 hazardous materials must communicate with 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 the information provided. 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 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.
- Railroads must provide this Emergency Order to all affected employees.

In addition, the FRA plans to develop a website that allows the public to track industry compliance with the Emergency Order and Safety Advisory issued Friday. FRA has developed a plan that outlines six major actions that have occurred or will occur to further ensure that its regulatory response to the Canadian rail accident remains transparent.

Following the recent crash, the FRA continues to evaluate safety procedures and will convene an emergency meeting of its Railroad Safety Advisory Committee to consider what additional safety measures may be required. As FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo said, "Today's action builds upon a comprehensive regulatory framework we have had in place for some time. The safe shipment of cargo is paramount."

Together with DOT's Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the FRA also issued a Safety Advisory detailing a list of recommendations--reviewing crew staffing requirements for transporting hazardous material, for example--railroads are expected to follow. As PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman said. "We're taking this action today. And we will be looking hard at the current rail operating practices for hazardous materials to ensure the public's safety."


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