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NTSB Asks for Input on Rail Incident Investigations

Posted on 9/15/2023 by Nick Waldron

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is one of many agencies (i.e., PHMSA, FRA, CSB, etc.) that investigates transportation incidents involving hazardous materials. NTSB does not enact or enforce shipping or transportation regulationsbut make recommendations for safety and process improvements based on the findings of investigations. 

NTSB’s authority is not limited to hazmat incidents. Regarding rail incidents, 49 CFR 831 authorizes the agency to investigate “railroad accidents, collisions, crashes, derailments, explosions, incidents, and releases in which involve a fatality, substantial property damage, or a passenger train.”

The regulation does not define "substantial property damage," however.

Does NTSB Need a Definition for “Substantial Property Damage”?

NTSB wants to know if they should define this term and what factors should be considered. An example of an existing similar definition is the Federal Transit Administration’s definition of “substantial damage”:

"Damage to transit or non-transit property including vehicles, facilities, equipment, rolling stock, or infrastructure that disrupts the operations of the rail transit agency and adversely affects the structural strength, performance, or operating characteristics of the property, requiring rowing, rescue, on-site maintenance, or immediate removal prior to safe operation.”
NTSB Asks for Input on Rail Incident Investigations

A monetary threshold for substantial property damages is also in consideration. If a dollar amount is assigned, NTSB will consider raising that figure annually with inflation.

The Board believes the FRA’s threshold of $11,300 would be too low of a value. This makes sense—rail incidents investigated by NTSB over the last decade that did not involve a fatality or passenger train had an average estimated damage value over $4 million.

The lowest of these values is approximately $526,000 and one of the highest is a 2013 derailment and hazardous materials release that resulted in $13.5 million in damages—not including the cost of cargo and environmental remediation.

To Submit Comments: Email the Board

“You may send comments, identified by Docket Number (No.) NTSB–2023–0007[.]” – 88 FR 60164

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