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Who responds? When do you evacuate? A look at Lancaster County’s Hazardous Rail Transit Plan

  • By Ann Rejrat/LNP | LancasterOnline
A railroad car labeled and placarded to be carrying liquified petroleum gas, moves on the railroad line along Front Street in Columbia Borough Wednesday, May 10, 2023.

 Blaine Shahan / LNP | LancasterOnline

A railroad car labeled and placarded to be carrying liquified petroleum gas, moves on the railroad line along Front Street in Columbia Borough Wednesday, May 10, 2023.

The Hazardous Rail Transit Plan for Lancaster County, provided by county officials through a right-to-know request, addresses railroad transportation risks and gives emergency responders a general response plan.

The plan, which is distributed to first responders and local emergency managers, outlines when to take action, how to identify hazardous material placards on a variety of railcar types, the procedures for emergency notification, how to establish incident command and organization, and information on how to inform other county, state and federal authorities.

The HART plan includes details on the railroads that operate in Lancaster County, areas for potential ecological risk and how to establish a disaster declaration.

The plan delineates responsibilities and protective equipment needed for fire departments, government officials, railroads and emergency management officials.

Here are highlights of the plan, which was redacted by county officials to protect  “sensitive municipal and transportation routing information” and confidential information for the railroads.

When to take action

In an emergency on a rail line, first responders take into account several potential response actions, depending on the specific emergency.

The responses are classified as “offensive” for quick emergency control and aggressive action; “defensive” for confining the situation with action from a distance to keep the responders safe; or “non-intervention,” in which no action is taken due to high risk for responders or where action could make a situation worse.

Duane Hagelgans, emergency management coordinator for Millersville and Manor Township, provided examples of the response situations. Hagelgans is also the fire commissioner for Blue Rock Fire Rescue and a professor of emergency management at Millersville University.


An example would be crews going toward a leaking tanker to shut off a valve and stop a leak.  

  • Dynamic actions to promote quick emergency control, mitigation or tactical resolve.
  • Enhanced risk to emergency responders.
  • Resource/sustainment-dependent operations and considerations. 


An example would be a large fire in which crews set up ladder trucks and lines that flow large amounts of water and are not held by responders.

  • Confining incident footprint to prevent additional harm, spread or collateral damages.
  • Immediate rescue/ isolation and denying of entry.
  • Spill-control actions to minimize spread/contamination.
  • Control/exposure protection of and against secondary fires.


An example would be a situation with unknown chemicals or chemicals that are water-reactive; applying water to a large fire with burning oil would create runoff of contaminated water, possibly to nearby waterways or groundwater.

  • Allow incident to run its course.
  • Noncommitment of resources because of high risk.
  • Monitor for worsening conditions.
  • Ensure public protective actions are initiated.

When to evacuate 

“Evacuation is sometimes, but not always, necessary,” according to the HART plan, which says the following criteria should be considered:

  • The hazardous materials involved, along with how much was released and for how long.
  • Wind direction and weather.
  • Potential outbreak of a fire and health hazards.
  • What municipalities are affected, along with what additional facilities might be at risk and their distance from the release.
  • Vulnerability of affected properties and shelter available at threatened sites.
  • Effectiveness of precautionary measures.
  • Number of people to be evacuated.
  • Road network and special transportation needed/available for transportation.

Who orders an evacuation 

The mayor or senior township supervisor in an impacted municipality would direct any evacuation/sheltering-in-place measures.

The county commissioners can order an evacuation if the disaster emergency impacts several towns or if the municipal leaders fail to order those measures, can’t be located or are unable to properly communicate and coordinate those measures.

Who’s notified 

After a 911 call is received, Lancaster County-Wide Communications dispatchers will notify the following departments, in order: 

  • Fire department.
  • Certified hazardous materials team.
  • Police department.
  • Emergency medical service.
  • Lancaster County emergency management duty officer.
  • LCWC Field Communications Unit (if requested).
  • Railroad.

The emergency management duty officer will then notify, in order:

  • Local emergency management coordinators of impacted municipalities.
  • Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to start a WebEOC report, which allows for secure, web-based and real-time information sharing among government and safety groups in response to an emergency or disaster.
  • Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
  • County commissioners.



What railroads operate in Lancaster County? 


Amtrak: Christiana, East Hempfield Township, East Lampeter Township, Elizabethtown, Lancaster city, Leacock Township, Manheim Township, Mount Joy, Mount Joy Township, Paradise Township, Rapho Township, Sadsbury Township, Salisbury Township, West Donegal Township, West Hempfield Township


Columbia & Reading: Columbia, West Hempfield Township


East Penn Railroad: Denver, East Cocalico Township, Ephrata Township, West Cocalico Township


Elizabethtown Industrial Railroad: West Donegal Township 


Landisville Railroad: East Hempfield 


Norfolk Southern: Columbia, Conestoga Township, Conoy Township, Drumore Township, Earl Township, East Donegal Township, East Earl Township, East Hempfield Township, East Lampeter Township, East Petersburg, Fulton Township, Lancaster city, Leacock Township, Lititz, Manheim, Manheim Township, Manor Township, Marietta, Martic Township, Mountville, New Holland, Penn Township, Upper Leacock Township, Warwick Township, West Hempfield Township


Strasburg Rail Road: Paradise Township, Strasburg Township


SOURCE: Hazardous Rail Transit Plan (HART) for Lancaster County 




 Nature preserves along Norfolk Southern Port Road


Norfolk Southern Port Road, which runs along the Susquehanna River, is the largest “through” freight route that does not start or stop in the county. The county’s Hazardous Rail Transit Plan  identifies some nature preserves that could need to be evacuated or examined for toxic impact in the case of a derailment. The plan, though, points out that this is not an exhaustive list and does not include river islands. 


Conestoga Township: 

Sherry Ferry Wildflower Preserve 


Conoy Township

Falmouth Access Park 


Drumore Township

Ferncliff Wildflower Preserve

Fishing Creek Nature Preserve

Muddy Run Recreation Park

Susquehannock State Park 


East Donegal Township 

Riverfront Park


Manor Township 

Observation Road and Recreation Area

Safe Harbor Nature Preserve

Turkey Hill Nature Preserve 


Martic Township 

House Rock Nature Preserve

Kelly’s Run Nature Area

Pinnacle Overlook 

Reed Run Nature Preserve 

Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve 


West Hempfield Township 

Chickies Rock County Park 


SOURCE: Hazardous Rail Transit Plan (HART) for Lancaster County 

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