The Legislation Leverages Findings from the NTSB Paulsboro Crash Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Congressman Donald Norcross (N.J.-01) today introduced the Toxics by Rail Accountability and Community Knowledge (TRACK) Act that will improve hazmat-by-rail safety by implementing a series of recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in its thorough, independent investigation into the cause of the 2012 Conrail freight train derailment and toxic chemical spill in Paulsboro, N.J.  Sen. Menendez first introduced this legislation last fall in the 113th Congress.  Rep. Norcross will introduce the companion bill in the House.

“After years of study, the NTSB found that Conrail’s actions after the Paulsboro derailment endangered the train crew, local residents and first responders.  But, the report also gave us a roadmap for how to improve the safety of shipping hazardous materials by rail—and this bill turns those recommendations into action,” said Sen. Menendez.  “No legislation can change the events of that day, or fully bring back peace of mind to the residents of Paulsboro, but I hope this legislation can be one step towards righting the wrongs that occurred and to forcing the railroads that operate in our communities to put public safety at the forefront.”

“Rail transportation is critical to our economy, so it must be safe and reliable,” said Rep. Norcross.  “Following the 2012 train derailment in Paulsboro and other preventable public safety emergencies, we must ensure that rail users take steps to minimize the risk of an accident and provide recourse to those affected when companies fail to do so. These NTSB-supported recommendations will improve rail safety and expand protections for first responders and residents who live along train routes. Going forward, I will continue to help secure our rails by fighting to get people back to work building, repairing and upgrading our nation’s infrastructure.”

The TRACK Act would:

  • Create strong penalties for railroads that violate safety standards, to ensure that safety lapses aren’t viewed as an acceptable cost of doing business;
  • Require up-to-date, accurate, and standardized hazardous materials information to better support first responders and emergency management officials;
  • Establish new safety procedures and qualifications to improve moveable bridge crossing safety;
  • Improve risk assessment and decision-making tools for railroads to ensure that safety is always the top priority; and
  • Enhance public education along rail routes that carry hazardous materials to ensure communities are prepared to respond in the event of an emergency.

The NTSB report, released last summer, culminated a months-long investigation into the Conrail freight train derailment and hazardous materials release in Paulsboro.  The report found that Conrail improperly allowed a train to cross the moveable swing bridge in Paulsboro when it was not fully closed and secured.  It also found that Conrail relied on an inadequate training program to help its employees safely cross the bridge.

The derailment occurred in the early morning of November 30, 2012 on a moveable swing bridge over Mantua Creek in Paulsboro.  As a southbound Conrail train crossed the bridge, seven of the train’s 82 cars derailed.  Four cars—one containing ethanol and three containing vinyl chloride—fell into the creek below.  One of these cars was breached, releasing approximately 20,000 gallons of vinyl chloride into the creek and the surrounding area.  No fatalities occurred as a result of the accident; a number of first responders and local residents were treated for possible vinyl chloride exposure.

Vinyl chloride is used primarily in the production of PVC plastic.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, short-term exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride can lead to central nervous system impacts including as dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches.  Vinyl chloride exposure has been shown to increase the risk of a rare form of liver cancer, and EPA has classified the toxic chemical as a human carcinogen.

Below are descriptions of the different sections in the TRACK Act.  You can also download the full text of the Act here.

Section 1. Short Title

Section 2. Chemical Exposure Right-to-Know.

This section requires that a railroad carrier found to be at fault for a hazardous material release periodically monitors public health assessments conducted by federal, state, or local agencies following the accident, and report relevant health information to impacted individuals. It requires railroads, in the instances where they have made legal settlements to individuals impacted by the hazmat leak, to offer to renegotiate such settlements if additional information comes out about long-lasting or irreversible health consequences. It establishes a civil penalty for a failure to offer to renegotiate a legal settlement in this circumstance.

Section 3. Commodity Flow Transparency

(Corresponds generally with NTSB Recommendation R-14-14)

This section requires the Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue a rulemaking requiring railroad carriers to disclose hazardous material commodity flow data to first responders, emergency response officials, and law enforcement personnel in the communities through which the hazardous material is transported, and to assist communities with the development of emergency response plans. It allows DOT to consider which hazmat information would be most relevant to be included in the commodity flow data, taking into account the volume of such hazardous materials and their threat to public health.

Section 4. Moveable Bridge Inspection Before Train Movement 

(Corresponds generally with NTSB Recommendation R-14-15)

This section directs DOT to issue a rulemaking establishing a formal procedure for a railroad carrier to safely permit a train to pass a red signal at a moveable bridge, including a training and qualification program for employees. It establishes a civil penalty for a failure to adhere to such regulation.

Section 5. Route Risk Assessment

(Corresponds generally with NTSB Recommendations R-14-16, R-14-17, R-14-20, and R-14-21)

This section directs DOT, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, to develop a route risk assessment tool for short line and regional railroads that allows for safety and security risk assessments to be performed by these carriers when alternative routes are not available. It establishes a program of audits to ensure that proper route risk assessments are carried out by short line and regional railroads.

Section 6. Railroad Safety Risk Reduction Program Amendments

(Corresponds generally with NTSB Recommendation R-12-03)

This section revises the railroad safety risk reduction program in 49 USC 20156 to include the use of safety management systems within railroad risk reduction safety programs. Key elements of safety management systems include top-down ownership and policies, analysis of operational incidents and accidents, and continuous evaluation and improvement programs.

Section 7. First Responder Right-to-Know

(Corresponds generally with NTSB Recommendation R-07-02, R-07-04 and R-14-18)

This section requires DOT to issue a rulemaking requiring railroads to deliver accurate and real-time train consists that identify the location of hazardous materials on the train to first responders, emergency response officials, and law enforcement in the event of a hazmat emergency. This section prohibits a railroad or their employee from withholding train consist information from first responders during an emergency, and establishes a civil penalty for doing so. This section also requires that emergency response information carried by train crews transporting hazardous materials is at least as protective as the information in the Emergency Response Guidebook issued by DOT.

Section 8.  Public Education

(Corresponds generally to NTSB Recommendation R-14-19)

This section requires DOT to issue a rulemaking requiring railroads transporting hazardous materials to develop, implement, and periodically evaluate a public education program for the communities along railroad hazardous materials routes.

Section 9. Inflation Adjustments

This section provides for inflation adjustments of the civil penalties included in the Act.