PHMSA enforces new hazardous materials regulations for railroads in the United States

July 3, 2024

New regulations for hazardous materials transport

On June 24, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a final rule amending the Hazardous Materials Regulations as reported by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC).

This rule follows mandates from the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act and the Investment Infrastructure and Jobs Act.

The rule stipulates three main requirements for railroads transporting hazardous materials.

First, railroads must maintain real-time information on the contents and positioning of hazardous materials rail cars.

This information must be accessible electronically to first responders, emergency response officials, and law enforcement along the train’s route.

Second, in case of an incident involving hazardous materials, the responsible railroad must notify the primary Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) and the track owner immediately.

Third, railroads are required to conduct annual tests of their emergency notification plans and systems.

Compliance timeline and additional requirements for railroads

The new regulations apply to Class I, Class II (Regional), and Class III (Short-Line) railroads, with varying compliance timelines.

Class I railroads have a one-year delayed compliance period, while Class II and Class III railroads have two years to comply.

Class III railroads have the option to either comply with the primary requirements or meet an alternative set of five specific requirements.

These alternative requirements for Class III railroads include developing a written plan for emergency notifications and train consist information, notifying local emergency response agencies along the train route, following the plan during incidents, providing the plan to the Department of Transportation, and conducting annual emergency notification tests.

Impact on emergency response agencies

PHMSA’s final rule aims to enhance the preparedness of emergency response agencies when dealing with hazardous materials incidents involving trains.

Firefighters, emergency management officials, and other responders will have better access to critical information, improving their ability to manage such emergencies effectively.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has expressed appreciation for PHMSA’s efforts in advancing this rule.

The IAFC emphasized their commitment to working with PHMSA to ensure real-time train consist information is available to their members, thereby enhancing safety and response capabilities during hazardous materials emergencies.

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