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GAO completes review of trains' hazmat response documents

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has completed a review of emergency response information in selected documents carried by trains that transport hazardous materials.

Although the GAO did not make recommendations, it performed the study to clear up potential confusion between emergency response information carried by trains transporting hazardous materials and guidance contained in the U.S. Department of Transportation's Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG).

Federal hazardous material regulations require railroads and other hazardous material transporters to carry emergency response information that describes immediate hazards to health and risks of fire or explosion. Representatives from all 18 railroads GAO interviewed told the GAO that they carry the ERG on their trains.

The GAO found that the emergency-response information in the guidebook and train documents of the selected railroads were generally similar, but differed somewhat in the level of specificity and type of information.

For example, the ERG provided more detail on evacuation distances. However, for six selected hazardous materials, the recommended evacuation distances in the ERG differed from the supplemental emergency response information which is provided by the Association of American Railroads' (AAR) Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Database.

In August, the AAR discontinued the database, which removed the potential for discrepancies between the ERG and AAR's supplemental emergency response information.

Congress called on the GAO to conduct the study after a 2012 derailment in New Jersey resulted in the release of 20,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, a hazardous material. The National Transportation Safety Board found that the train's supplemental documents on emergency response to vinyl chloride were inconsistent and less protective than the ERG.

The GAO's full report on the study can be read here.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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