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TTD Supports Sharing Emergency Response Plans with First Responders

By Admin

Mr. Rob Benedict
Standards and Rulemaking Division
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, DC  20590

RE:  Hazardous Materials: Oil Spill Response Plans for High-Hazard Flammable Trains
        Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
        Docket No. PHMSA 2014-0105 (HM-251B)
        RIN 2137-AF08
        Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

Dear Mr. Benedict:

On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), I write to comment on the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on Hazardous Materials, Oil Spill Response Plans (OSRPs) for High-Hazard Flammable Trains (HHFTs).  By way of background, TTD consists of 32 affiliate unions representing workers across the transportation spectrum, including the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) whose members answer the call when transportation-related emergencies occur.  We therefore have a vested interest in this proceeding.

We appreciate PHMSA’s effort to address the safety of rail transportation of crude oil by considering changes to the applicability of comprehensive OSRPs.  These plans help ensure personnel are trained, equipment is available, and procedures are in place in case a rail accident involving oil occurs.

More than anyone, the fire fighters and paramedics represented by the IAFF understand the importance of preparing emergency response plans.  The IAFF’s members serve more than 85 percent of the U.S. and Canadian populations, responding to a variety of emergencies including accidents on our nation’s railways.  Ensuring they have access to all available information about a carrier’s response plan prior to their arrival helps them prepare their own plan and enables them to make more informed in-the-moment decisions when necessary.

Currently, comprehensive OSRPs are required of carriers transporting 42,000 gallons of oil in a single package, but as PHMSA explains, very few, if any, tank cars are capable of transporting such a volume of crude oil.  As a result, most response preparations are less detailed, ‘basic’ OSRPs.  Under this ANPRM, PHMSA considers changing the comprehensive OSRP threshold from the existing gallon-per-package standard, to a per-train-consist trigger.  PHMSA proposes several options that would effectively lower the threshold requiring comprehensive plans, thus making these plans more prevalent.

Requiring comprehensive OSRPs on a broader basis will require greater preparation and improve safety.  Current regulations specify that, in addition to the requirements of basic OSRPs, comprehensive plans must identify qualified individuals with authority to implement removal actions; identify and ensure means of removing and mitigating a discharge; and describe personnel training, testing, and response actions intended to ensure safety and mitigate discharge.  These additional requirements help prepare carriers and some first responders for potential accidents.  And while we support requiring this information, we believe improvements can be made to make these plans even more useful.

Unfortunately, PHMSA’s current regulations governing comprehensive OSRPs appear to require coordination with only private personnel and not public first responders.  Per 49 CFR 130.31(b)(4), comprehensive OSRPs must identify and ensure “by contract or other means the availability of, private personnel… and the equipment necessary to remove…a worst case discharge… and to mitigate or prevent a substantial threat of such a discharge” (emphasis added).  Given the vital role that local public fire fighters and paramedics play in responding to train accidents, they must also be included in this coordination effort to ensure they are as prepared, and OSRPs are as strong, as possible.

Additionally, PHMSA should consider expanding section 130.31 which currently requires railroads to retain OSRPs at their principle place of business and at the dispatcher’s office.  In order to ensure that local responders are familiar with OSRPs, railroads should also be required to share their plans with the fire fighters and paramedics who would be responsible for responding to an accident.

Requiring greater preparation in case of rail accidents could help save lives and limit destruction.  The men and women who respond to these emergencies must be coordinated with and have access to carriers’ plans.  We appreciate the efforts of this proceeding and the opportunity to comment, and we hope our suggestions will be taken into consideration.

Edward Wytkind
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