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Photo of Ohio National Guard first responders at the East Palestine fire.

Photo credit: Ohio National Guard

First Responders Need Real-time Hazmat Information at Rail Incidents

Posted: June 29, 2023

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To get first responders real-time access to train consist information at hazardous materials rail incidents, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is proposing amendments to its Hazardous Materials Regulations pertaining to the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

The amendments are designed to strengthen requirements and include requiring railroads to:

  • Maintain current train consists in both hard copy and electronic formats. They are currently only required to maintain hard copies.
  • Actively push train consist information to authorized responders within a 10-mile radius as soon as the railroad is aware of an accident involving any hazardous materials. The current requirement only mandates that this information be made “available” to local responders, who must pull this information themselves.
  • Share this information at all railways. Currently, only class 1 railroad carriers are required to provide train consists to responders, but the proposed amendment would require carriers of all classes to share this information.

These amendments are a response to communication and preparedness challenges experienced by local first responders at several past hazmat rail incidents including the February 3, 2023 Norfolk Southern Railway freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

For more information and to submit comments on these proposed reforms (before August 28, 2023), see PHMSA’s Federal Register notice.

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This article is based on content in the
June 29, 2023 InfoGram.

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