On June 27, 2023, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing amendments to the Hazardous Materials Regulations to require all railroads to generate, maintain, and share certain information electronically to enhance emergency response and investigative efforts. The NPRM was issued in response to a congressional directive from the FAST Act of 2015, as well as in response to an NTSB recommendation.

The proposal (PHMSA-2016-0015) would require all railroads transporting hazardous materials to generate—in electronic form—train consist information, maintain that information off-the-train, update that information in real-time, and provide that information to authorized emergency response personnel in advance of their arrival to an accident or incident. As such, railroads operating a train carrying hazardous materials would be required to promptly push that information to state-authorized first responders following either an accident involving that train or an incident involving the release or suspected release of hazardous material from that train. Comments to the NPRM are due October 27.

About a year ago, in a related regulatory action (PHMSA-2022-0043), PHMSA issued a Request for Information seeking input from the public on requiring a performance-based (electronic) alternative to the existing physical, paper-based hazard communication requirements. This RFI was broader than just trains; it was asking for feedback relating to all modes of transportation (including for shipping papers by highway). In this notice, the Agency identified several previous initiatives relating to this subject, including work being done in Canada.

STC finds it interesting that last year’s RFI was focused on all transportation modes, while the recent PHMSA action is focused specifically on rail. This most likely is due to the recent unfortunate derailment and subsequent release of hazardous materials that occurred in East Palestine, Ohio, and the fallout that ensued. While STC certainly can understand the focused attention that events like these bring, we are hopeful that PHMSA does not take regulatory action in a vacuum. Hazardous materials transportation is ubiquitous across all modes of transportation, and ensuring that all modes’ needs and issues are accounted for in incident management is imperative for our collective ability to provide for better safety in the future.