New rule to protect first responders during accidents involving hazardous materials

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) released a rule requiring railroads to provide first responders with real-time, electronic information about rail hazmat shipments. The information will go to the primary Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP), such as a 911 call center, as soon as the railroad is aware of accidents or incidents involving hazardous materials.

The rule requires all railroads to generate both hard copy and electronic documents detailing real-time information on train shipments transporting hazardous materials. The information must include the quantity and position of the materials, the train’s origin and destination, emergency response information and a designated emergency point of contact at the railroad.

The railroad will maintain copies of the documents off-the-train and update them in real-time. The routinely updated information will ensure emergency responders have the latest information on any incidents that may occur and what hazards they may encounter.

If an inciden occurs, the railroad operating the line must immediately notify the area’s primary Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) and track owner. PSAPs include 911 call centers, dispatch centers or emergency responder phone apps.

Firefighters will be able to use the information catalogued to fully utilize PHMSA’s 2024 Emergency Response Guidebook. These guidebooks provide detailed information on how to respond during the initial phase of a transportation incident involving hazardous materials. PHMSA recently distributed the guidebook to almost 2 million first responders across the nation to help standardize and equip responders with how to effectively respond to hazmat situations.

USDOT has allocated more than $2 billion to improve rail safety infrastructure to date. The hazard ruling is the latest in USDOT’s efforts to improve rail safety. Other final rules the agency has recently released include:

  • Establishing minimum safety requirements for the size of train crews and typically requiring a second crewmember on trains.
  • Requiring railroads to supply emergency escape breathing apparatuses to train crews and other employees when transporting hazardous materials.
  • Requiring rail lines to install video recording devices on passenger trains.
  • Requiring large freight and passenger railroads to identify, evaluate, measure and mitigate fatigue-related hazards on their system.

Photo by Ankush Minda on Unsplash

Government Market News Staff

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