FRA grants support development of a Short Line Safety Institute

By Erin Voegele | August 25, 2014

The Federal Railroad Administration has announced two grants totaling $350,000 to support the development of a Short Line Safety Institute. According to the FRA, the institute will help mitigate risk associated with shipping hazardous materials by rail by working to improve the culture of safety within the short line and regional rail industry while improving its overall safety record.

A $250,000 grant to the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association supports the pilot phase of safety culture assessments.  Pilot testing is scheduled to begin in January and will initially focus on crude oil transportation. The ASLRRA will use to the grant money to conduct a comprehensive review of the existing safety programs on short line and regional railroads. It will also 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. The ASLRRA will also provide access to effective safety training processes, programs and resources and develop large libraries of training tools, technical materials and other educational resources to assist small railroads in instilling a culture of safety. A separate $100,000 grant was awarded to the University of Connecticut to conduct initial work that will focus on the development, testing and validation of safety education and training and development for managers and employees.

“Nearly half of all short line and regional railroads handle some type of hazardous materials, and today’s grants will play an important role in ensuring those materials and all shipments reach their destination safely,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “These grants are just the latest step in our comprehensive approach to improving the safe transport of crude oil and other hazmat by rail.”

The FRA has indicated the primary purpose of the institute will be to conduct safety compliance assessments to measure compliance with federal safety standards and safety culture assessments to evaluate the steps each railroad is taking to promote sate practices internally. In addition, the institute will provide safety education, training, and development to managers and employees. Assessors from the institute will visit member railroads, evaluate safety compliance and safety culture and document their findings in a written report. The institute will also provide education, training and employee development following the assessments.

In June, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced legislation to authorize a new Short Line Rail Safety Institute.  According to information released by Collins at that time, undermanned short line railroads often transport crude oil and ethanol. Collins estimated there are 550 short line railroads in the U.S. operating more than 50,000 miles of combined track, comprising nearly one-third of the entire U.S. railroad network. Those tracks can be as short as a couple of miles, or stretch more than 1,000 miles.

The two senators also called for the creation of the institute in a letter to Foxx in May. That letter advocated for increased safety measures on short line railroads. Within the letter, Collins and Murray stressed that while short line railroads make up one-third of the nation’s rail network, they lack the funding and support that larger Class I railroads receive.

On Aug. 20, Murray and Collins issued a press release on the RFA’s grant announcement, noting that the Senate Transportation Subcommittee Fiscal Year 2015 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.