The Federal Railroad Administration will award two grants totaling $350,000 to support the development of a Short Line Rail Safety Institute, the Senate Appropriations transportation subcommittee announced Wednesday.
The new institute is designed to help the short line and regional rail industry mitigate the risks associated with shipping crude oil, ethanol and other hazardous materials, while improving its overall safety record.
Subcommittee leaders Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have used their influence to get the institute established and in June introduced legislation to authorize the institute.
The subcommittee's fiscal year 2015 appropriations bill recommends an additional $2 million for the institute to conduct safety assessments for rail lines that transport crude oil and other highly hazardous cargo.
Crude oil shipments have become a national safety focus in the past year because there have been at least five major derailments of crude oil unit trains in which tank cars have ruptured and oil has caught fire. The new light sweet crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota, as well as other oil now being developed through hydraulic fracturing, is more flammable than heavy oil and railroads are being used to transport it because there are few pipelines in the areas where the oil is being harvested.
There are 550 short line railroad companies that operate over 50,000 miles of track, or nearly one-third of the national railroad network.
FRA is also issuing a $250,000 grant to the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) to begin the pilot phase of safety culture assessments. Pilot testing will begin in January 2015 and will initially focus on the safety of crude oil transportation by rail. With the grant money, ASLRRA will:
- Conduct a comprehensive review of the existing safety programs on short line and regional railroads (e.g., compliance requirements of FRA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration).
- Use tools developed by the University of Connecticut to identify areas of non-compliance and help railroads develop a culture of commitment to railroad safety.
- Provide access to effective safety training processes, programs and resources.
- Develop large libraries of training tools, technical materials and other educational resources to assist small railroads in instilling a culture of safety.
The University of Connecticut also received a $100,000 grant to conduct initial work that will focus on the development, testing and validation of safety education, training and development for managers and employees.