NS and the industry enhance emergency response preparedness
To say that the rail industry’s premier training center is in the middle of nowhere is an understatement: Driving east from Pueblo, Colo., it’s 25 miles across desolate flatlands, past the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot, where mustard gas is stored; past prairie dogs and pronghorn antelope; and past a security checkpoint with a huge warning sign for rattlesnakes.
Since last summer, Norfolk Southern and other Class I railroads have converged on the remote Security and Emergency Response Training Center to help train community emergency responders on how to safely respond to the derailment of a train moving crude oil tankers. The railroad-sponsored training was prompted by a dramatic increase of crude-by-rail transport and several highly publicized derailments – including the July 2013 explosion of a runaway crude train in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people and destroyed much of the downtown area.
As part of an industry initiative to address concerns, the Class I roads, including NS, committed $5 million to develop a three-day, 24-hour training course on crude-by-rail emergency response at the SERTC facility. The Transportation Technology Center Inc., a subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads, operates the center. The Class I roads are paying for 1,500 first responders to attend the class.
“There have been numerous initiatives over the past two years to address the increased volumes of crude oil traveling on the nation’s railways, including regulatory rulemakings, emergency orders, and voluntary programs,” said Rich Russell, NS system director environmental protection. “The SERTC crude-by-rail training course was part of a voluntary commitment to the U.S. Department of Transportation. It provides a unique hands-on learning environment for emergency responders, and it plays an important part in the rail industry’s larger local community preparedness programs.”
NS’ hazardous materials and environmental operations groups enhance preparedness by developing and offering training programs for NS employees and local emergency responders. Collectively, these NS groups trained more than 5,000 responders across the company’s service network in 2014. They also are on call to provide emergency response duty at any time.
At three of the SERTC training courses last year, NS sponsored 126 first responders from 11 states, primarily along the company’s crude oil corridors, providing tuition, travel, and expenses. The participants included fire chiefs, paramedics, homeland security officials, hazardous materials officers, and others from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Alabama, and Kentucky. In 2015, NS plans to offer the three-day training class to 80 more emergency responders across its rail network in June.