CSX makes deal with state on shipments of hazardous materials

Tom Fontaine
| Monday, March 10, 2014, 11:03 p.m.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency will be able to track one major railroad's shipments of hazardous materials through the state in real time in a deal announced on Monday.

The three-year agreement with CSX Transportation, the state's second-busiest freight railroad, will give PEMA access to the railroad's computer network that tracks rail shipments.

“With direct access to the company's information, it greatly increases the ability of (PEMA) to prepare for and respond to rail incidents,” agency Director Glenn Cannon said.

CSX said it has similar agreements with about 20 other states, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Transportation Security Administration.

“This partnership allows (CSX) and state officials to effectively and seamlessly share information and work side by side to safeguard the communities that we serve,” said Skip Elliott, CSX vice president of public safety, health and environment.

Josh Wilson, executive director of the Keystone State Railroad Association, said association members — including CSX — are “always looking for innovative ways to enhance the safety of rail freight movement across the commonwealth.”

PEMA is negotiating a similar deal with Norfolk Southern Corp., the state's busiest freight railroad, and could explore ones with other carriers, agency spokesman Cory Angell said.

More than 50 railroads haul freight in Pennsylvania, according to Association of American Railroads data.

The agency knows the volume of hazardous materials being shipped through the state annually, but not where or when, Angell said.

PEMA's announcement arrives on the heels of two derailments in Pennsylvania, one in Philadelphia in January by CSX and one in Vandergrift on Feb. 13 by Norfolk Southern. The latter derailment involved 21 tanker cars, including 18 carrying heavy crude oil and one containing butane. No one was injured, but four punctured tankers leaked 3,500 to 4,500 gallons of crude, with most of it winding up in a parking lot.

Federal right-to-know laws exempt shipping companies such as CSX from having to disclose what hazardous materials they carry. While CSX has a “voluntary agreement” with some cities that it won't move “unit trains” — those carrying only one type of hazmat cargo — it easily gets around that rule. In Philadelphia, one of the seven cars that derailed was carrying sand.

In 2013, CSX reported 212 accidents — 99 of them from derailments. Sixty-four others involved cars carrying hazmat cargo — the highest number for any railroad company in the United States.

CSX will train PEMA workers how to use its network. It's unclear when PEMA will begin monitoring shipments on its own.

The Associated Press contributed. Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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