Chicago – Attorney General Kwame Raoul, as part of a coalition of 12 attorneys general, called on the federal government to mandate railroad companies better communicate with emergency first responders regarding hazardous material loads to ensure communities are safer in case of an emergency.
In a comment letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Raoul and the attorneys general express support for the Hazardous Materials: FAST Act Requirements for Real-Time Train Consist Information, a proposed rule from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that would expand communications between railroads and emergency first responders.
"Recent high-profile accidents involving railcars carrying hazardous materials highlight the need for better communication between rail companies and emergency responders,” Raoul said. “It is paramount our communities are kept safe if an incident occurs by making sure first responders have the information needed to protect human life, as well as the surrounding environment.”
In their letter, Raoul and the coalition express support for the rule that would require railroads to provide train consist information to first responders along their route to ensure emergency personnel have all information necessary to keep people safe before an emergency occurs. The rule would also require an emergency response notification to be sent to all first responders within a 10-mile radius that includes the train consist information, which includes the position of locomotives and cars as well as both non-hazardous and hazardous freight within those cars.
Raoul and the coalition highlight the need for the proposal as existing rules currently fail to ensure the timely exchange of information with first responders. The need was highly visible following a train derailment in February in East Palestine, Ohio, where a train carrying hazardous materials derailed and cleanup was delayed by lack of communication. In the East Palestine incident, several railcars caught fire and others spilled hazardous waste into a nearby stream. Firefighters arrived at the scene, but were not able to identify the types of chemicals contained in the train cars for roughly 45 minutes because they were unaware of the train’s load.
In addition to supporting the proposed rule, Raoul and the coalition also express support for expanding the proposed rule to require railroads to utilize a data repository for electronic train consist information, requiring railroads to coordinate with the appropriate state agencies to account for state-specific needs, requiring that railroads periodically test their electronic communication tools and report the results on a standardized form to PHMSA, and requiring railroads to develop contingency plans for when electronic train consist information is unavailable or not accessible.
Joining Raoul in submitting the comment letter are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin.