The Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration earlier this month ordered the U.S. rail industry to take a number of actions to secure unattended trains, in response to the July 6 train derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.
The administration issued an emergency order and a safety advisory aimed at preventing trains operating on mainline tracks or sidings from moving unintentionally.
The announcement came about a month after an unmanned train hauling crude oil derailed and exploded in the heart of the town of Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people.
"Safety is our top priority," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "While we wait for the full investigation to conclude, the department is taking steps to help prevent a similar incident from occurring in the United States."
The emergency order, which is mandatory, requires railroads to obtain special authorization for securing unattended trains transporting hazardous materials.
To receive such authorization, railroads must develop and submit a process that includes "locking the locomotive or otherwise disabling it, and reporting among employees to ensure that the correct number of hand brakes are applied," the administration explained.
Review Crew-Staffing Requirements
The Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration also issued a safety advisory that calls upon railroads to review their crew-staffing requirements for transporting hazardous materials and to ensure that they are adequate.
The administration said it believes that "railroad safety is enhanced through the use of multiple crew members."
Other recommendations include conducting "systemwide evaluations to identify particular hazards that may make it more difficult to secure a train or pose other safety risks and to develop procedures to mitigate those risks," the administration said.
In the wake of the Lac-Mégantic derailment, the Federal Railroad Administration said it will convene an emergency meeting of its Railroad Safety Advisory Committee to consider additional rail-safety requirements.
The administration also said it plans to develop a website that will allow the public to track industry compliance with the emergency order and safety advisory.
U.S. Train Accidents Have Declined
Under current federal regulations, all freight railroads are required to develop and implement risk assessments and security plans in order to transport any hazardous material, including a plan to prevent unauthorized access in railyards, facilities and trains carrying hazardous materials.
Railroads that carry hazardous materials are required to develop and follow a security protocol while en route; railroad employees are subject to background checks and must complete training.
The Federal Rail Administration said its "rigorous" safety regulations have helped reduce train accidents by 43 percent over the past decade.
The administration added that 2012 was the safety year in U.S. rail history.