DOT Proposes Rails Rules for Real-Time Hazmat Information for Firefighters, First Responders

Image of a train rail with cars

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is proposing a new rule aimed at strengthening requirements governing railroads’ provision of hazardous materials information to responders during a hazmat incident.

The proposal would require railroads to always maintain — and update in real-time — accurate, electronic information about rail hazmat shipments in a train consist that would be accessible to authorized emergency response personnel. Railroads would also be required to proactively “push” that information to authorized local first response personnel as soon as the railroad is aware of an accident involving any hazardous materials.

Also Read: Prolonged Hazmat Operations at Ohio Train Derailment

“When railroads transport hazardous materials, they must do so safely and responsibly,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Our proposal would improve rail safety and help protect communities across the country by requiring railroads to maintain detailed, real-time information about trains carrying hazardous materials.” 

“On-demand access to key information about hazmat shipments coupled with proactive information sharing will enable first responders to better prepare for the risks present at the scene of an incident before they arrive on scene,” said PHMSA Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown. “This will improve safety for firefighters and first responders, and the communities they so courageously serve.” 

“Firefighters are often first to show up at many emergencies, including train derailments and hazmat incidents. Accurate, up-to-date information about train contents is critical to keep first responders and the communities they serve safe. The IAFF strongly supports the Department of Transportation’s new rule that would give firefighters real-time data allowing for safer responses. We applaud the DOT for prioritizing fire fighter and public safety,” said Edward A. Kelly, General President, International Association of Fire Fighters.

Also Read: Hazmat Resources for Train Derailments

PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Administration have taken several additional actions to improve freight rail safety. That includes making more than $25 million in funding available to help train first responders and strengthen safety programs and issuing safety advisories to railroad companies about replacing tank car covers and urging a faster transition from DOT111s to DOT 117s rail cars. 

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would require all railroads to generate, in hard copy and electronic versions, real-time train-consist information for shipments containing hazardous materials. Required information would include the quantity and position of the shipment on the train, the shipment’s origin and destination, and a designated emergency point of contact at the railroad.  

The proposal responds to congressional mandates in the FAST Act, National Transportation Safety Board recommendation providing electronic train consist information to emergency officials and personnel that respond to hazmat incidents for railroads, as well as lessons learned from firefighters responding to the February 2023 Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Consistent with the broad scope of the NTSB recommendation, PHMSA’s proposal goes beyond the FAST Act mandate that had been limited to Class 1 railroads and extends these new proposed requirements to all railroad classes and requires proactive notification to local first responders in the case of an accident or an incident involving a release or suspected release of a hazardous material. 

The proposed rule has been transmitted to the Federal Register. A publication date will be provided when it becomes available along with an opportunity to provide public comment.

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