Safety Recommendation R-14-018
Synopsis: This report discusses the 2012 accident in which a Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) train derailed while traveling over a moveable bridge in Paulsboro, New Jersey. Three tank cars containing vinyl chloride came to rest in Mantua Creek, of which one was breached and released about 20,000 gallons of vinyl chloride. On that day, 28 residents sought medical attention for possible exposure, and the train crew and many emergency responders were also exposed. Damage estimates were $451,000 for equipment and about $30 million for emergency response and remediation. This report addresses safety issues: training and qualification of train crews for moveable bridge inspection; Conrail safety management; timeliness of hazardous materials communications to first responders; failure of the incident commanders to follow established hazardous materials response protocols; firefighter training and qualifications; inadequacies of emergency planning, emergency preparedness, and public awareness for hazardous materials transported by train; and rail corridor risk management analysis. Safety recommendations to: Conrail, US Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Association of American Railroads, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Volunteer Fire Council, four New Jersey state agencies, with three reiterated.
Recommendation: TO THE PIPELINE AND HAZARDOUS MATERIALS SAFETY ADMINISTRATION: Take action to ensure that emergency response information carried by train crews is consistent with and is at least as protective as existing emergency response guidance provided in the Emergency Response Guidebook.
Original recommendation transmittal letter: PDF
Overall Status: Closed - Reconsidered
Mode: Railroad
Location: Paulsboro, NJ, USA
Is Reiterated: No
Is Hazmat: No
Accident #: DCA-13-MR-002
Accident Reports:
Report #: RAR-14-01
Accident Date: 11/30/2012
Issue Date: 8/22/2014
Date Closed: 4/7/2017
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status: PHMSA (Closed - Reconsidered)

Safety Recommendation History
From: NTSB
Date: 4/7/2017
Response: Your letter stated that, as you understand it, Safety Recommendation R-14-18 can only be satisfied by a regulatory action that would make the ERG a de facto regulation. During a conference call we held on Feburuary 10, 2016, with represenatives from PHMSA, we made it clear that the NTSB has not requested regulatory action to satisify this recommendation, but that the ERG is an accepted document that emergency responders can use in the event of a hazardous materials incident, and it is the closest thing to a consensus standard regarding the response to such accidents. We are aware of your many safety initiatives, including publishing the ERG, which aids in the recognition of hazardous materials and continues to be a first-line resource for hazardous materials responders. Upon further researching this recommendation, we discovered that you have developed a free 2016 ERG mobileWeb application, which should provide the nation’s emergency responders with fast, easily accessible information to help them manage hazardous materials incidents. We also are aware that you added the following disclaimer: Currently electronic files, including the ERG App, cannot be substituted for hard copy documents to comply with the requirements of the Emergency Response Information requirements of Subpart G of Part 172. The intent of this regulation is to ensure that the emergency response information be provided together with the shipping paper in an accessible manner. In accordance with 49 CFR Part 107, Subpart B, a person interested in displaying emergency response information in alternate manner may request a special permit from the Associate Administrator for Hazardous Materials Safety. Accordingly, Safety Recommendation R-14-18 is classified CLOSED--RECONSIDERED.

Date: 3/16/2016
Response: -From Marie Therese Dominguez, Administrator: The PHMSA does not concur in part based on our understanding of the construct of the safety recommendation that it would entail a regulatory action to satisfy the recommendation and that such an action would leave the ERG as a de facto regulation rather than as a guidebook. The PHMSA has reservations about taking such a course of action. The PHMSA reminds NTSB that 49 CFR Subpart G of Part 1 72 of the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR; 49 CFR Parts 171-180) specifies the requirements to provide and maintain emergency response information (ERI), which is defined as information that can be used in the mitigation of an incident involving hazardous materials. Specifically, section 172.602(a) states that it must include, at a minimum, the following information: 1) The basic description and technical name of the hazardous material; 2) Immediate hazards to health; 3) Risks of fire and explosion; 4) Immediate precautions to be taken in the event of an accident or incident; 5) Immediate methods for handling fires; 6) Initial methods for handling spills or leaks in the absence of fire; and 7) Preliminary first aid measures. The HMR require that this information be presented on a shipping paper or in a document other than a shipping paper that includes the information in section 172.602(a), such as, a material safety data sheet. The ERG is one form of guidance that can be used to satisfy this requirement. The PHMSA does agree with NTSB that providing emergency responders with accurate and accessible ERI is critical in transportation safety. However, we have concerns with taking regulatory action to ensure that emergency response information is as protective as the ERG. First, it is important to note that the ERG is a tool to help emergency responders, not necessarily a national standard, even if viewed as such by NTSB or the public. The ERG is a guide to be relied upon in the absence of any other information. Although it may be a good starting point, the ERG cannot account for every variable that a carrier may encounter in transportation. The PHMSA relies on the shipper or carrier's ability to provide accurate emergency response information based on the specific material, the amount of material being transported, and other route-related variables. Ultimately we support giving flexibility to shippers and carriers to prepare emergency response information based on their own unique scenario. Furthermore, while part of the ERG is based on scientific data, it may not always be the only correct way to respond to an incident. For instance, a shipper or carrier may use a different evacuation distance based on his or her own analysis using a source other than the ERG. The result may be equally or more effective for initial emergency response. This allowance explains why differences can exist between the ERG and sources like the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Bureau of Explosives Hazardous Materials Shipping Descriptions and Emergency Response database (HAZMAT database). For example, prior to the 2012 ERG publication, AAR contacted PHMSA to address the differences in the guidance for chlorine spillage in Tables 1 and 3; questioning the estimates and usability. The PHMSA recognized that there may be differences, but nonetheless, chose to publish the isolation and protective action distances based on research to support the ERG. However, to date, there is no published evidence, in the NTSB report or otherwise to indicate AAR' s guidance on chlorine emergency response as unsafe. The PHMSA does, however, acknowledge NTSB's concerns as expressed via conference calls to discuss this recommendation that the information provided by shippers in accordance with section 172.602(a) is often not verified or validated. That is, there is no supporting data or analysis for the ERI provided by the shipper. For vinyl chloride, the AAR HAZMAT database recommended, "[i]f material leaking (not on fire) consider evacuation from downwind area based on the amount of material spilled, location, and weather conditions." This type of guidance allows for a more specific response without causing unnecessary evacuation for the surrounding community. A properly trained emergency responder should be able to respond appropriately, based on the size of the spill, location, and weather conditions. In some cases, the emergency responder may conclude that the isolation and protective action distances prescribed by the ERG are not necessary. Moreover, making the ERG a minimum requirement could have unintended consequences for the emergency response community. We are concerned that this could eventually lead to enforcement actions taken against emergency responders who choose not to follow what is prescribed in the ERG. We support allowing emergency responders to properly assess the situation and respond using their discretion, without fear that their actions will result in a penalty for not following what was provided to them. Additionally, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that emergency responder actions would have been different had the train consist had ERI that was consistent with the ERG. In the NTSB accident report, it states, "[i]t is uncertain whether this inconsistent information influenced the emergency responder actions on the day of the accident"1 and further states that, "the train consist and emergency response information were not provided to the incident command for more than three hours. However, during the first hour of the emergency response, the Conrail director of risk management recommended a 0.5-mile evacuation, similar to what is suggested in the ERG." To conclude, at this time we plan no regulatory action regarding this safety recommendation with respect to the ERG, however, we will initiate action (e.g., an internal working group) to consider an alternative means to provide assurances to the public that ERI provided by train crews is valid. The PHMSA will also take into consideration the results of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) study regarding ERI carried by train crews, in accordance with section 7303 of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act).

From: NTSB
Date: 2/24/2015
Response: Although you recognize the importance of protecting emergency responders and state that you intend to consider this issue in formulating possible safety solutions, you have not committed to any specific action that you plan to take to address this recommendation. Pending our receipt of your detailed plans, Safety Recommendation R-14-18 is classified OPEN—UNACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.

Date: 11/24/2014
Response: -From Timothy Butters, Acting Administrator: The NTSB concludes in its report1 on this accident that railroad-provided emergency response information that departs from nationally recognized ERG information has the potential to confuse emergency responders faced with making timely isolation and protective action distance decisions in response to hazardous material (hazmat) releases. The ERG contains an indexed list of hazmat and the associated identification number, the general hazards they pose and recommended safety precautions. Moreover, the ERG is a tool that provides emergency responders with critical information and guidance during the initial stages of a hazmat emergency. Taking the proper action during those critical first minutes does have a huge impact on the safety of both first responders and the people they serve. Thus, we acknowledge the NTSB’s point and will take it into consideration as we contemplate possible alternatives, including regulatory action, to affect this recommendation.