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STB lays out rule for trackage rights during emergency situations

Procedures become effective Dec. 30

The Surface Transportation Board is adopting a final rule governing the procedures by which a railroad accesses the track of another railroad in emergency situations.

The rule, available here and effective Dec. 30, establishes a new class exemption for emergency temporary trackage rights for specific limited situations. It would be used in situations in which a rail carrier has a track outage because of an emergency situation, such as a severe weather event, and the rail carrier needs access to another carrier’s track.

The Association of American Railroads had petitioned the board in October 2020 for the rule, and the board largely agreed on the petition’s merits, saying the change would make the process of obtaining temporary trackage rights in an emergency more efficient and predictable.

The change enables emergency temporary trackage rights to take effect within five days of a carrier filing a verified notice of exemption instead of requiring a waiver of the 30-day notice requirement under existing regulations. 

The rulemaking was met by some objections. The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, also known as SMART-TD, argued in November 2020 that the exemption could threaten rail safety by allowing personnel to conduct operations over an unfamiliar line, which is the line where the trackage rights would be granted. The National Transportation Safety Board expressed similar concerns. 

But STB determined that the exemption would not affect rail safety because it would not impact existing Federal Railroad Administration safety regulations.

“The FRA, rather than the board, exercises primary authority over matters of rail safety, and because the new emergency temporary trackage rights exemption does not waive or nullify the application of FRA safety regulations governing these topics, additional board regulations imposing essentially the same requirements would be unnecessarily duplicative,” STB said in its decision.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.