In a final rule that will greatly affect the nation’s rail carriers and how they transport hazardous materials, the agency has published new requirements amending the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR). It requires railroads that carry hazardous materials to generate in electronic form, maintain, and provide to first responders, emergency response officials, and law enforcement personnel, certain information regarding hazardous materials in rail transportation to enhance emergency response and investigative efforts. The rule’s genesis can likely be attributed to the events of February 3rd, 2023, when a Norfolk Southern train derailed thirty-eight cars full of hazardous materials in East Palestine, Ohio. Although deaths or injuries were mercifully absent from the incident, the subsequent evacuations, firefighting, and environmental clean-up were massive and were additionally hampered in its early stages by a lack of information available to first responders attempting to cope with the scene.

This final rule requires railroads transporting hazardous materials to:

  • generate train consist information in electronic form
  • maintain that information on and off-the-train
  • update that information in real-time as information changes (if applicable)
  • provide that information to authorized first responders along the train route who could be or are involved in the response to an accident
  • immediately following an accident, the railroad operating the train must make an emergency notification telephonically and provide train consist information electronically to the primary Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) responsible for the area where the event occurred
  • test their emergency notification system at least annually

In addition to the above major requirements, the new rule spells out how railroads are to accomplish testing, tracking, and recordkeeping in consonance with those requirements. The need for real-time tracking and updates to train information may prove a significant operational challenge for some carriers. The rule is effective on July 24th.

Federal Register here.