The Rail Safety Section performs two distinct functions. The Section handles proceedings pertaining to the abolition, alteration, construction, relocation and suspension of public highway-railroad crossings in order to prevent accidents and promote public safety.
Secondly, inspectors in the Rail Safety Section handle complaints and conduct safety inspections at facilities of the railroad companies for compliance with Public Utility Commission railroad regulations and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations as they relate to track, motive power and equipment, hazardous materials, operating practices and grade crossing.
In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 5,600 miles of track, 5,600 public at grade crossings, 1,500 public highway above-grade crossings and 1,685 public highway below-grade crossings. Currently, approximately 65 railroad companies operate in Pennsylvania, which is the largest number of railroad companies per state in the United States.
There are currently six PUC railroad inspectors who each focus on a specific discipline (track, operating practices, hazardous materials, grade crossing and motive power and equipment). PUC inspectors work in close coordination with FRA inspectors to ensure safe train movements throughout the entire state.
Crude Oil Train Routes
Approximately 60 to 70 trains carrying Bakken Shale crude oil from North Dakota to the Philadelphia area pass through Pennsylvania each week. Due to recent events, crude oil trains have garnered increased government and media attention in 2014 and 2015, on both a national and local level.
Bakken Shale oil is highly flammable compared to other types of oil. While these shipments are nothing new to Pennsylvania, they have become more frequent in recent years due to the nationwide surge in domestic production.
In light of the increased Bakken crude oil shipments, PUC rail safety inspectors have increased their focus on crude oil train routes in Pennsylvania, which comprise approximately 700 miles of track across the state. PUC track railroad inspectors are highly trained and are aware of the rail safety concerns associated with the shipment of crude oil. Thus, they are able to focus on areas where these shipments are being made.
The FRA and the National Transportation Safety Board are the lead responders on major derailments and accidents and PUC inspectors offer assistance when needed.