In Latest Work to Advance Rail and Hazmat Safety, USDOT Issues New Safety Advisory to Major Freight Railroads to Help Prevent Derailments
Following the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, USDOT has been pushing a set of sweeping reforms to rail safety and called on Congress to support a budget that improves critical rail infrastructure and ensures rail inspections continue without interruption
Washington, DC -- In the latest action to improve safety in communities across the country, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is calling on major freight railroads to review and update their placement of rail cars and locomotives. The configuration of railcars and how cargo gets loaded can be critical to the risk of derailment. Read FRA’s Safety Advisory here.
This is the sixth safety advisory the Department has issued since the February 3rd Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio – all part of the Department’s longstanding, ongoing work to hold railroad companies accountable to their workers and to communities across the country.
Additionally, the President’s FY 2024 Budget calls for an investment of more than $1 billion to expand USDOT’s core rail safety efforts and improve critical infrastructure:
- $273.5 million to support the agency’s railroad safety personnel, expand critical inspection and audit capabilities, enhance data analysis to better identify the root causes of railroad safety incidents, and increase stakeholder outreach and partnerships to address and eliminate threats to public safety.
- $760 million for both the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program and Railroad Crossing Elimination program to provide additional dedicated grant funding to improve nearly all facets of railroad safety, including upgrading track, rolling stock, and signal systems; supporting railroad employee safety training programs; and preventing railroad trespassing and highway-rail grade crossing collisions.
- $59 million for a cross-cutting Research & Development program to advance new technologies and practices to improve railroad safety.
The President’s FY 2024 budget is notably different from the deeply concerning budget proposal from the House Freedom Caucus, which would cut rail safety funding, decrease rail safety inspections, and make our railways drastically less safe both for workers and communities across the country.
These announcements build on previous progress, including:
- Holding Norfolk Southern Accountable: USDOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is conducting a supplemental safety assessment of Norfolk Southern Railway following multiple safety incidents. The safety assessment will exceed the scope of existing FRA audits and take an expansive look at Norfolk Southern’s overall safety culture and operations. Further, FRA is supporting the NTSB-led investigation into the cause of the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine and will hold the railroad accountable for any safety violations.
- Funding Hazmat Rail First Responders: USDOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced more than $25 million available in grant funding through the Assistance for Local Emergency Response Training (ALERT) grant program. These grants will help train first responders, strengthen safety programs, improve general safety, reduce environmental impacts, and educate the public on local safety initiatives. In recent years thousands of responders nationwide have received training thanks to this program, including 2,500+ responders in 137 different locations in Ohio.
- Bipartisan Legislation: The Senate proposal, endorsed by President Biden, includes provisions that Secretary Buttigieg called for in February as part of a three-part drive, such as significantly increasing fines on industry for safety violations, strengthening rules for trains carrying hazardous materials, increasing funding for hazmat training, accelerating the timeline to phase in more robust tank cars, and ensuring a two-person crew minimum on trains.
- Targeted Inspections: FRA announced focused inspections, starting with targeted track inspections in and around East Palestine, on routes that carry large volumes of hazardous materials and expand nationwide.
- Rail Worker Confidential Safety Reporting Program: After Secretary Buttigieg pressed them, all seven Class I freight railroads agreed to participate in the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS) program for rail employees to help prevent safety issues.
- Meeting with Labor Leaders: USDOT leadership gathered leaders from unions representing tens of thousands of rail employees to hear safety concerns, both short- and long-term. USDOT's three-part approach includes a push to guarantee paid sick leave for all rail workers.
- Safety Advisory for Tank Car Covers: PHMSA acted on initial findings from the NTSB investigation into the Norfolk Southern derailment and issued a safety advisory notice for tank car covers.
- Safety Advisory for Emergency Response Plans: PHMSA urged all railroad operators to create and maintain emergency response plans for the transport of hazardous materials, strengthen the accessibility of the AskRail system that provides real-time information on shipments to first responders, and inform PHMSA when they identify responders who are not able to access PHMSA’s grant-funded training. The full advisory can be found here.
- Safety Advisory on Tank Car Type: PHMSA released a safety advisory, pressing rail tank car owners and hazmat shippers of flammable liquids to remove their DOT-111 and CPC-1232 tank cars and replace them with DOT-117 tank cars. The incident in East Palestine, OH, demonstrated that DOT-111 and CPC-1232 tank cars do not perform at the highest level of survivability during derailments and fires, unlike the DOT-117 tank cars.
- Safety Advisory for Hot Bearing Detectors: FRA urged railroads using hot bearing detectors (HBDs) to evaluate their inspection process, prioritize the proper training and qualification of personnel working with HBDs, and improve the safety culture of their organizations. The full advisory can be found here.
- Safety Bulletin on Car Switching Hazards: FRA issued a Safety Bulletin to increase awareness of the hazards relating to switching cars. FRA is investigating a recent switching accident that resulted in a crewmember leg amputation.
- Emergency Breathing Apparatus NPRM: FRA issued a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would require railroads to provide emergency escape breathing apparatus to train crews and other employees when transporting certain hazardous materials.
- Investments in Rail Safety: In the first year of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, FRA invested over $370M in safety improvements to physical infrastructure including nearly $190M for upgrades to tracks. Later this year, FRA will make awards for the new Railroad Crossing Elimination Program and the next round of the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program.
Investigators from USDOT’s FRA and PHMSA were on the ground within hours of the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, 2023. The agencies are supporting the investigation being led by the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent agency. For more on the federal response and jurisdiction, see here.
To get the latest information on the investigation, please visit NTSB’s website.