Virginia Governor McAuliffe Announces State Rail Safety Task Force on Hazardous Material Transport

While federal officials continue their efforts to address railroad transportation of petroleum crude oil (crude-by-rail), Virginia intends to make a parallel but somewhat broader effort with respect to hazardous material rail transportation. 

On May 7th the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued an Emergency Order (EO) requiring all rail carriers to notify State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) regarding the expected routing of their unit trains of Bakken crude oil. The EO is effective in 30 days. The DOT issued the EO in response to the "startling" number of crude oil railroad accidents that have occurred during the last year, and the voluminous quantity of oil spilled as a result of the accidents.  Back in September of 2013, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking related to rail hazmat safety, including regulations for tank cars most commonly used to move crude oil by rail.  PHMSA received almost 150 comments on the proposed rule.  PHMSA, in cooperation with the FRA, has developed Notice of Proposed Rule Making based upon those comments and that rule is under review by the Office of Management and Budget.  It is unclear when OMB will clear the rule or when PHMSA will publish it.

On May 9 Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced the creation of a Railroad Safety and Security Task Force, comprised of state agency officials and private sector representatives with hazmat transport expertise.  The task force will make recommendations to improve safety and the way hazardous materials are transported through the Commonwealth.  The Governor wants Virginia to be a national leader in the prevention of, preparation for and response to hazardous material transport accidents. 

Governor McAuliffe’s Task Force is a response to the April 30, Lynchburg, VA derailment of a CSX train carrying Bakken crude oil.  Seventeen cars were derailed and three fell into the James River, briefly caught fire and resulted in the partial evacuation of downtown Lynchburg.

Shortly after the announcement, CSX announced its support for the Task Force.  Bryan Rhode, CSX’s Regional Vice-President of State Governmental Affairs, issued a statement saying We look forward to participating in the task force as part of our ongoing collaboration with federal, state and local agencies.

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