(The Center Square) — A provision in the proposed Railway Safety Act would require railroads to notify states about the types and frequency of trains carrying hazmat transported through its boundaries.
“I believe that railroads should absolutely share their manifests with the cities and communities through which their trains run,” medical writer and author Yasmine S. Ali, who has written a book about the 1978 train disaster in Waverly, Tennessee, told The Center Square via email.
“Those communities deserve to know what hazardous or potentially hazardous materials are being transported through them,” Ali added. “If the first responders in Waverly had known what they were dealing with, they would have used more caution, held a wide perimeter, called in other experts, and far fewer lives would have been lost.”
Spokespeople for the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
An Association of American Railroads spokeswoman told The Center Square railroads work to ensure that first responders and emergency management agencies can access accurate information to plan and respond to a rail emergency.
Efforts include supplying rail dispatchers and crews with information about hazardous materials and informing communities about such materials moving through their jurisdictions.
In 2014, first responders and freight railroads developed AskRail, a free app that delivers up-to-date information about the type of hazmat a railcar carries to first responders. More than 2.3 million first responders across the country have access to the app, and the AAR said the goal is to integrate it into dispatching centers nationwide.
“Any notification requirements must contemplate broader safety issues related to the movement of hazardous materials through communities such as who has access to the information, how is it kept secure from bad actors and how quickly can this be accessed in the event of an emergency,” the spokeswoman said. “Railroads are supportive of the current language within the RSA and stand ready to work with Congress and local officials to ensure no first responder arrives at the scene of a rail incident without access to the right information to safely respond.
By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor