The Lead

Federal Railroad Administration issues new rule to protect train crews as result of East Palestine derailment

By: - January 25, 2024 6:58 pm
Aerial view of the train derailment wreckage in East Palestine. (Screenshot from NTSB B-roll recorded Feb. 5, 2023)

Aerial view of the train derailment wreckage in East Palestine, Ohio, Feb. 5, 2023. (NTSB).

Under a final rule issued Thursday by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), railroads will be required to have “emergency escape breathing apparatuses for train crew members and other employees who could be exposed to an inhalation hazard in the event of a hazardous material, or hazmat, release.”

The rule requires railroads to ensure that such equipment is maintained and in working condition, and to train employees how to use it.

The agency said the rule is in response to the February 2023 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border.

“As FRA continues to advance rail safety and address concerns related to the transportation of hazardous materials, this new rule will implement needed protections for the workers who transport these products around the country,” FRA Administrator Amit Bose said in a news release. 

The FRA added that casualties due to hazmat inhalation are rare, but pointed to railroad accidents in 2004 and 2005 where chlorine gas inhalation resulted in several deaths, including train personnel. 

In East Palestine, toxic chemicals including vinyl chloride were released when a Norfolk Southern train derailed on Feb. 3, 2023, resulting in plumes of thick black smoke and the formation of hydrochloric acid and phosgene, a respiratory irritant used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I. 

It forced the evacuation of residents within a mile of the crash site, and left those in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania with questions about their safety and lasting harm to the environment.

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications. Follow her on Threads @social_kimly