The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration plans to issue a proposed rule requiring two-person train crews on crude oil trains and establishing minimum crew size standards for most main line freight and passenger rail operations, the FRA said Wednesday.
Proposed rules on the issues of securing trains and the movement of hazardous materials also are being planned.
The announcement follows the deliberations of three working groups on appropriate train crew size, securement and hazardous materials that were created at the Department of Transportation's request last year in response to the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, derailment, in which at least 42 people were killed and much of the town destroyed after a train was left unattended by the sole engineer.
While existing FRA regulations do not mandate minimum crew staffing requirements, current industry practice is to have two-person crews for over-the-road operations, the statement said.
The notice of proposed rulemaking will most likely require a minimum of two person crews for most mainline train operations including those trains carrying crude oil, although appropriate exceptions are expected, the FRA said.
“We believe that safety is enhanced with the use of a multiple-person crew — safety dictates that you never allow a single point of failure,” FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo said in a statement. “Ensuring that trains are adequately staffed for the type of service operated is critically important to ensure safety redundancy.”
Unattended trains on the tracks
The agency also plans to issue an additional notice of proposed rulemaking, based on one of the working group's recommendations, that would prohibit certain unattended freight trains or standing freight cars on main track or sidings and require railroads to adopt and implement procedures to verify securement of trains and unattended equipment for emergency responders, the agency said.
It would also require locomotive cabs to be locked and operating controls to be removed and secured. Railroads also would be required to obtain advance approval from the FRA for locations or circumstances where unattended cars or equipment might be left.
The Lac-Mégantic tragedy occurred after an unattended, parked train carrying crude oil began to roll and eventually derailed, engulfing the Canadian town in flames.
A working group has also recommended changes related to the identification, classification, operational control and handling of hazardous material.
Observers have said that while only a tiny percentage of trains carrying crude oil are likely to derail, the risk of derailment and catastrophic losses has increased significantly with the growing number of tank cars carrying the fuel.