Washington, DC- As a rash of train derailments continues to plague communities across Pennsylvania, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) pushed for a new measure that could increase training, resources for first responders in Pennsylvania that must respond to derailment emergencies. The RESPONSE Act would create a special division within FEMA to train emergency personnel to respond to train derailments and potentially provide more resources for training. The legislation would also create a train incident database to track incidents and help first responders access timely information and better communicate.
“Train derailments threaten the health and economic wellbeing of communities across Pennsylvania,” Senator Casey said. “New safety requirements by the Department Transportation are a step in the right direction but more must be done to protect vulnerable communities and our first responders. This is commonsense legislation that will aid first responders and communities. Congress should move on it soon.”
In many instances when these derailments occur in rural areas, the firefighters were the first to respond. According to the American Association of Railroads, the number of railcars carrying crude oil on major freight railroads in the U.S. grew by more than 6,000 percent between 2008 and 2013. Pennsylvania recent derailments have occurred in Philadelphia, Vandergrift, and McKeesport. Thousands of Pennsylvanians live near rail lines, and it is critical that we ensure first responders have the proper training to respond in the event of a derailment. The bill would establish a subcommittee under FEMA’s National Advisory Council to address training of first responders, particularly in smaller communities The RESPONSE Subcommittee would be tasked with bringing together all the relevant agencies, emergency responders, technical experts and the private sector for a review of training, resources, best practices and unmet needs related to emergency responders to railroad hazmat incidents. All flammable hazmat response to railroad incidents would be within the scope of the Subcommittee, but given the potential increased risk associated with a derailment involving delivery of crude oil. The Subcommittee would provide recommendations to Congress within 12 months on emergency responder training and resource allocation. These will include addressing effectiveness of current funding levels related to training local emergency responders; strategy for integration of commodity flow studies, mapping, and access platforms for local emergency responders and how to increase the rate of access to the individual responder in existing or emerging communications technology; The development of a train incident database; and the need to increase access to relevant, useful, and timely information for the local emergency responders among other things.