FAST Action by Congress helps keep chemical transportation on track

During the final legislative business days of last year, Congress passed a major and much-needed piece of legislation called the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or “FAST Act,” which addressed many critical transportation issues.

In addition to providing long-term funding to the Department of Transportation, the legislation contained important provisions to help improve the safe transportation of hazardous materials, including chemical shipments.

Passing the legislation was no easy task and certainly would not have been possible without the tremendous leadership of Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and the entire U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Following up on their work, the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security held a July 12, 2016, hearing to examine the implementation of the FAST Act and its role in improving our nation’s infrastructure, increasing safety, and enhancing economic growth. One of the witnesses, David Eggermann representing BASF and the American Chemistry Council, testified on the Act’s hazardous materials provisions.

During his remarks Eggermann explained how the chemical industry helps provide “the building blocks that are necessary for safe drinking water, life-saving medications and medical devices, and a safe and plentiful food supply.” He also emphasized that a strong foundation for transportation safety exists thanks to industry programs such as Responsible Care, TRANSACER, and CHEMTREC.

Turning specifically to the FAST Act, he told the Committee that passage of the Act means a great deal to U.S. manufacturers and outlined the provisions that will help bolster safety,

To begin, TRANSCAER has received Federal Railroad Administration and DOT grants, supporting community programs across the US.  Increased funding and greater accountability as provided for in the FAST Act, will further improve the effectiveness of these programs.

Regarding rail tank cars, The FAST Act found common ground among all stakeholders by directing the DOT to place the highest priority on upgrading cars that will deliver the greatest safety benefits to the public, while concurrently providing a realistic and workable timetable for car owners and shippers.

Finally, we support the FAST Act requirement for the DOT to conduct a study on the levels and structure of insurance for railroads transporting hazardous materials. A workable liability framework is necessary to support the safe and efficient rail transportation of essential products.

Eggermann concluded by highlighting several challenges that if addressed would help build on the good work that has been done to enhance the safe transportation of hazardous materials.

First, the most important way to reduce hazmat releases is to prevent accidents from occurring in the first place. When rail accidents occur, primary causes include equipment defects, track defects, and human error in rail operations. My hope is that Federal policymakers will continue to address these root causes.

Next, while we understand and respect the concerns of individual communities, we believe that hazmat transportation safety cannot be effectively advanced though a patchwork of individual state and local polices. It is a national issue and needs an effective and uniform national regulatory program.

Finally, the Association of American Railroads, through its Tank Car Committee, has in the past attempted to unilaterally impose requirements on tank car owners.  If unimpeded in the future, this approach has the potential to usurp the DOT’s regulatory authority and threaten to undermine collaborative efforts that will drive future tank car safety advances.”

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