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US DOT announces safety rule to strengthen oil train spill response preparedness

The US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), issued a final rule that requires railroads to develop and submit Comprehensive Oil Spill Response Plans for route segments traveled by High Hazard Flammable Trains (HHFTs). 

The rule applies to HHFTs that are transporting petroleum oil in a block of 20 or more loaded tankcars and trains that have a total of 35 loaded petroleum oil tankcars.

“This new rule will make the transport of energy products by railroad safer,” said US Secretary of Transportation Elaine L Chao.

The rule revises the oil spill response plan requirements currently in place to require railroads to establish geographic response zones along various rail routes and ensure that both personnel and equipment are staged and prepared to respond in the event of an accident. Furthermore, railroads are required to identify the qualified individual responsible for each response zone, as well as the organization, personnel, and equipment capable of removing and mitigating a worst-case discharge. 

The rule also requires rail carriers to provide information about HHFTs to state and tribal emergency response commissions in accordance with the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015.

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