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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

High-Hazard Flammable Train Route Assessment

High-Hazard Flammable Train Route Assessment DashboardView the dashboard that provides an overview of inspection activities under the High-Hazard Flammable Train Route Assessment (HRA).

On February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern Railway general merchandise train (i.e., a train not meeting the definition of a high-hazard flammable train or high-hazard flammable unit train) derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. The derailment resulted in a release of hazardous materials, which subsequently fueled extensive fires, damaging additional rail cars and resulting in an evacuation that affected approximately 2,000 residents. FRA and the National Transportation Safety Board have ongoing investigations into this accident. On February 21, 2023, DOT Secretary Buttigieg laid out a three-part drive to spur action in the rail industry and Congress and to further enhance the work already under way at DOT. (https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/us-department-transportation-fact-sheet-steps-forward-freight-rail-industry-safety)  

On March 1, 2023, FRA’s Office of Railroad Safety initiated a nationwide High-Hazard Flammable Train Route Assessment (HRA) involving FRA inspectors and state program inspectors. The inspection activities have continued for several months. The high-level objectives of each of the five technical disciplines are as follows: 

Hazardous Materials

  • Verify proper train make-up and consist accuracy.
  • Evaluate railroads’ response and communication processes with communities through which hazardous materials are being transported.
  • Inspect hazardous materials cars in service for compliance with hazardous materials regulations and FRA regulations.
  • Verify proper notification of states’ emergency response agencies and whether the state agencies notify communities.

Motive Power and Equipment

  • Inspect strategically selected trains at initial terminal locations and locations where crew inspections are regularly conducted.
  • Ensure proper mechanical inspections and Class 1 brake tests are performed on hazmat placarded freight and tank cars in accordance with 49 CFR 215 freight car safety standards, Part 231 safety appliance standards, and Part 232 power brake safety standards.
  • Determine challenges to the phase out of specification DOT 111 tank cars.

Operating Practices

  • Dispatch: Determine best practices for responding to wayside detector notifications and ensuring properly qualified personnel are performing dispatch functions. 
  • Operating Crews: Determine best practices for responding to wayside detector notifications and ensuring proper training and qualifications of crews, focusing on individual’s territorial qualifications and hazardous materials-specific training including recognition and proper handling of hazardous materials in train and awareness of accompanying risks.

Signal and Train Control

  • Evaluate the policies, procedures, practices, and compliance of Class I railroads in areas identified as the most critical assets (e.g., bridges, movable bridges, tunnels), as related to derailments.
  • Review and inspect hot bearing detector systems.
  • Determine the adherence to the processes and procedures for unusual contingency detectors that are currently unregulated.
  • Review and inspect active grade crossing warning system locations and switch inspections that are routinely executed in the daily duties and performance of FRA’s inspectors.

Track

  • Inspect conditions of track and other structures’ overall condition and compliance with railroad-specific maintenance plans and procedures.
  • When wayside detectors are present, evaluate whether the conditions of track and structures impede the performance of the detectors.
  • Conduct Automated Track Inspection Program survey of identified routes.
     

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Last updated: Thursday, June 29, 2023