The Federal Railroad Administration has taken action over the weekend and issued a new set of emergency safety regulations for railroad companies following the recently deadly train derailment in Canada, which left 47 people dead. The safety directives include orders preventing operators from leaving oil transport trains unattended without first seeking government approval.

The FRA says that following the accident in Canada, which involved a runaway train loaded down with oil tankers, it began to reassess its safety regulations, especially those concerning trains carrying hazardous materials. The FRA revealed that inspection data since January 2010 showed significant non-compliance with regulations regarding securing trains, finding nearly 4,950 recorded defects since that time. The FRA says it has also noticed a number of accidents involving trains transporting hazardous chemicals and wanted to issue new guidelines to address these issues.

The FRA’s recently issued safety directives say that any railroad that intends to leave a train unattended must submit a plan telling the government when and where this will happen. The railroads will also have to ensure the doors to the locomotive cab are secured; an attempt to avoid another deadly runaway train derailment.

Another component of the FRA’s emergency safety order involves strict rules about calculating and reporting the numbers of hand brakes that operators must use to secure trains. Hand brakes are critical to keep trains stationary and function like a car’s emergency brake, acting as a backup to the train’s airbrakes. The number of hand brakes that are required to keep a train stationary depend on each situation and can be difficult to calculate. The FRA has said that hand brakes, or the lack thereof, appear to have played a role in the deadly Canadian derailment.

The FRA also noted that it has larger concerns about transporting crude oil or ethanol by train. The agency underlined how transporting oil is a dangerous proposition because in the case of a catastrophic crash, oil is highly flammable and can make a bad situation much worse. Moreover, oil is almost always transported in large quantities, further compounding the danger. The FRA noted that there have been four serious mainline train derailments that have resulted in the breach of ethanol-carrying rail cars since 2009. Three of these crashes led to evacuations of nearby towns and one resulted in fatalities.

The FRA should be applauded for taking action to prevent future train derailments and crashes. The danger of transporting hazardous substances in potentially defective rail cars like the commonly used DOT-111s is a serious worry for railroad workers and members of the public alike. As someone who has spent years representing individuals injured in railroad accidents, I believe that any effort to make the industry safer is a step in the right direction.

Here’s a video where our attorneys discuss when a railroad worker should hire an injury attorney: