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Crude by Rail: Cooperative Preparedness Planning and Training

Posted on Thu, Oct 23, 2014

CSX, a North American leading supplier of rail-based freight transportation, recently hosted a crude-by-rail (CBR) incident response training session at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center (SERTC) in Pueblo, Colorado. The training consisted of 40 first responders representing 12 states.  According to CSX, “The three-day training session focused on preparation for and emergency response to railroad incidents involving crude oil, and included an overview of the history of crude oil extraction, chemical and physical properties of different types of crude oil currently being transported, incident site and damage assessment, and tank car design and construction. Participants also practiced specialized response techniques and incident command scenarios during mock derailments.”

According to the Association of American Railroads’ October 4, 2014 Weekly Report, petroleum and petroleum products shipped by rail was up 12.8% from the same time frame in 2013 (1). As CBR shipments continue to increase, companies must prioritize response and safety training, as well as coordinated planning and preparedness efforts. Because a single incident can have a significant or catastrophic impact, it is imperative that pre-planning and training be incorporated with coordinated response efforts.

In May 2014, the Department of Transportation (DOT) mandated initial coordination by instituting an emergency order for railroads to communicate specific information to each State Emergency Response Commission (SERC). The notifications must provide information regarding the estimated volumes and frequencies of train traffic implicated. Rail companies that transport 1,000,000 gallons or more of Bakken crude oil must adhere to the emergency order.

Specifically, the emergency order dictated that the notifications must: 

  1. Provide a reasonable estimate of the number of trains expected to travel, per week, through each county within the state
  2. Identify and describe the petroleum crude oil expected to be transported in accordance with 49 CFR part 172, subpart C
  3. Provide all applicable emergency response information required by 49 CFR part 172, subpart G
  4. Identify the routes over which the material will be transported.

Communication and cooperative pre-incident planning provides a tool for railroad companies and response agencies to begin the collaborative process of preparedness. This endeavor should be a coordination of overall response strategies that are made part of CBR response plans, training, drills, and exercises. A derailment that includes crude may require mutual aid efforts and a clear, yet robust Incident Management System.

In order for an incident management system to be effective, specific situational checklists should be created.  Rail employees, and local incident responders must be trained in applicable emergency procedures, communications cycles, and documentation requirements.  Rail incidents should be managed through clearly identified and communicated objectives. These objectives may include, but are not limited to:

  • Establishing specific and step-by-step incident objectives
  • Developing strategies based on incident objectives
  • Developing and issuing assignments, plans, procedures, and protocols
  • Establishing specific, measurable tactics or tasks for various incident management functional activities, and directing efforts to accomplish them, in support of defined strategies
  • Documenting results to measure performance and facilitate corrective actions

Maintaining an accurate and up-to-date picture of resource utilization is a critical component of incident management and emergency response. This may be especially challenging on select high or low density rail routes.  Each real-time incident management status update should include the following information in order to clarify response status:

  • Time of update (timestamp)
  • Incident or event name
  • Elapsed time of incident from initiation
  • Name/position of responder making status updates
  • Current planning phase and/or specific status update
  • Tasks assigned, both internally and externally, and resources used or required
  • Emergency Operations Center location and contact information

Improving rail car emergency response training, reactive decision management, timeliness of an ongoing response, and swift implementation of recovery strategies can limit resulting effects of any CBR emergency situation. As the shipments of CBRl continue to increase, it is imperative that companies, in conjunction with local responders prioritize well-coordinated preparedness initiatives.

NOTE: SERTC was established in 1985 to train railroad officials to safely handle accidents involving tank cars carrying hazardous materials. Because the initial endeavors were so successful, hands-on training courses were extended to serves the public sector emergency response community, the chemical industry, government agencies, and emergency response contractors from all over the world.  

(1)   Association of American Rail Traffic Weekly Rail Traffic Report, Oct. 9, 2014.

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Tags: Response Plans, Oil Spill, Training and Exercises, Safety, Crude by Rail