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Rail safety bill would beef up hazardous response training

Legislation provides for safety equipment availability, training related to hazardous material rail transports

FILE - A unit rain travels along rail lines in Scappoose. A bill likely to be signed into law would require the Oregon State Fire Marshal to adopt a plan for coordinated response to hazardous material spills from rail cars.A rail safety bill awaiting Gov. Kate Brown’s signature aims to improve training of first responders dispatched to hazardous material spills from rail cars.

If signed into law, House Bill 3225, which was introduced by Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River, will place the Oregon State Fire Marshal in charge of coordinating training for emergency responders.

Equipment to aid in spill response will be provided voluntarily at seven different locations across the state by railroad owners Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Union Pacific and Portland & Western, a release from Johnson’s office states.

“This is an important step forward for rail safety and improving the response to any incidents that may occur,” Johnson stated. “Through this measure, the OSFM will ensure that first responders are trained, have the tools they need in case of an emergency, and can identify gaps in the state’s ability to respond.”

“Together with our colleagues at UP and BNSF, our emergency response teams will continue participating in emergency exercises, offering educational scholarships, providing equipment and instructing specialized training,” Michael Williams, vice president of corporate communications for Genesee & Wyoming Railroad Services, Inc., which owns Portland & Western Railroad, stated Wednesday, July 15. “The specialized, hands-on training offers the latest technology insights and industry best practices to our local safety partners to better prepare for the unlikely event of a rail incident.”

Williams said the training program will offer firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, military members and other responders insight on how rail equipment operates, how to safely work on railroad property, and the logistics of the railroad’s incident response network.

Rail safety related to hazardous materials transport has been at the forefront of discussions in Columbia County. A representative from Global Partners LP, the company that operates a crude oil transport terminal at Port Westward, presents quarterly updates at Port of St. Helens meetings. Additionally, the Scappoose City Council adopted a resolution earlier this month asking federal regulators to do more to ensure rail car safety.

HB 3225 passed the Oregon House of Representatives 59 votes to 0 and the Senate 24 to 6.