New rail routing rule not adding delays or costs - US

30 June 2009 23:12  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS news)--New federal requirements for sending rail shipments of hazardous materials by the most secure routes are being implemented without major delays or cost increases, a top US rail regulator said on Tuesday.

William Schoonover, chief of the hazardous materials division at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), said that the routing rule that went into effect in December last year “is generating some pretty good responses from rail carriers”.

The rule was issued in keeping with federal security studies following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the US and in response to a growing number of US local governments that enacted or were considering laws barring the transit of hazmat cargo trains through their jurisdictions.

“There were 14 cities and one state considering routing requirements that would have barred the transit of hazmat trains,” Schoonover noted, “and we found that there were 444 municipalities in the US that had populations of more than 50,000 people and that had a rail line running through the town.”

“It was apparent that we needed a uniform national approach to this problem,” he said.

The rule that took effect in December 2008 requires rail carriers that transport explosives, toxic inhalant hazardous (TIH) materials or radioactive substances to identify practical alternative routes for such shipments and consider the security concerns of local governments about high-consequence targets near each route.

The regulation also requires that railroads compare the safety and security risks of each alternative route, identify potential mitigation measures for each route, and then analyze the data to select the most practical route that poses the least overall safety and security risk.

The rule does not bar the transit of hazmat cargoes through municipalities, but it does require use of alternative routes when practical.

Schoonover noted that the FRA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spent $10m (€7.1m) to develop a software programme that railroads can use to compile and analyze the alternative routes data and safety considerations.

Because the rule requires that railroads provide details of their routing decisions for the first half of this year by 1 September, the FRA does not yet have full data on how well the routing requirements are working, Schoonover said.

However, he said that anecdotal evidence and comments from rail operators he has spoken with indicate that the system is being implemented without major service interruptions.

“We’ve had pretty good responses from the rail carriers,” Schoonover said. “I don’t think we’ll see a lot of delays as a consequence of the routing rule.”

He also said he does not anticipate that the safe-route rule will precipitate any major additional costs for high-volume rail shippers such as chemicals manufacturers.

“Part of the reason for that is that rail operators were already in the practice of sending their hazmat cargoes by the safest and most secure routes, just as a matter of their own liability protection,” he said.

But the routing rule does provide carriers with a better means of selecting safer and more secure routes for hazmat cargoes, he noted, and compliance data available after 1 September is expected to give assurances to state and local officials that the safest routes are being used when possible.

Schoonover spoke on the second day of the three-day 2009 Chemical Security Summit, which is co-sponsored by the DHS and the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA).

($1 = €0.71)

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By: Joe Kamalick
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