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144586 tn?1284669764

Railroad Hazmet Accidents - Chlorine Gas

Anyone who lives near a railroad track should be aware of the consequences of a derailment.

(1) In such a case, no matter the time of day they should immediately evacuate their family.
(2) Do NOT go near the derailment.
(3) Learn the location of any major rail lines in the vicinity of your home.

At 2:39 Eastern Standard Time on Jan 6, 2005, Norfolk Southern Fast Freight 192P005 was enroute from Macon Georgia to Columbus South Carolina on the Northbound main. In the little town of Ganitteville, South Carolina, people were sleeping peacefully.  The freight was pulled by two venerable but powerful SD60's, running in notch eight at 48 miles per hour. As they entered the town the engineer noted the switchstand signal was set for a siding.  Hours before, freight P22, running foul of the time-on-duty law, had parked their train for the night and left the switch aligned for the main line. The hogger dynamited the brakes, but the train could not stop and he died at the throttle. In the collision with the parked train a single tank car containing 90 tons of chlorine gas was punctured, releasing a deadly plume of gas 2,500 to the North, 1,000 to the east, 900 to the south, and 1,000 to the west. The town was lucky because there were several tanks of chlorine, as well as sodium hydroxide in the consist.

Nine people died. The engineer and eight town residents. 5,400 people were evacuated within a one mile radious. 500 people sought medical treatment and 75 were hospitalized. Autopsies revealed all the dead died from asphyxiation.

Railroads move over 76,000 carloads of toxic inhalation gases annually throughout the United States, consisting mainly of chlorine and anhydrous ammonia. Stronger tank cars and routings are in place, but the danger is very real.

There are competing interests of hazardous-chemical-dependent industries and railroads, justifiably concerned about the unquantifiable risks of moving these commodities.
9 Responses
144586 tn?1284669764
In the United States the situation with regard to tank car railroad protocols involving shipments representing toxic inhalation hazards has been improving, albeit slowly. Railroads have begun nationwide planning, for example, to route such shipments around heavily populated areas, whenever practicable.  Extensive training programs are now offered in Pueblo Colorado for first responders teaching them how to handle such incidents.

In the case of chlorine, the tanks are normally pressurized to about 100 pounds per square inch, and if a valve is shorn off during transit, it's trouble in River City.

Midland Manufacturing has designed a new valve containment apparatus, which places seals below the level of the presssure plate, designed specifically to contain chlorine is valves are ripped off during a wreck.

That's the good news. The bad news is, thanks to foot dragging, there are only twenty-five cars in the entire United States currently equipped with such improvements.

Union Pacific went to court recently for the right to refuse to transport dangerous chemicals and was rebuffed.

For the past twenty years, most, if not all railroads, no longer have the once familiar red caboose on the end. Nowadays there is simply a blinking light device, called "Fred". Over the years the brotherhoods have gone on strike for five man crews, but the FRA has sided with the United Transportation Union, (a competitive union), and now many Class 1 roads roll with only two crewmembers on board, clearly not enough to handle the simplist problem with a leaking tank.

During 2009 discussions between Homeland Security, railroads and manufacturers resulted in what was called "The Railroad Tank Car Research and Safety Project", the "Next Generation Rail Tank Car Project", and an intergovernmental project (between Canada and the U.S.A) called "The Advanced Tank Car Collaborative Research Project".

This has resulted in recommendations for stronger, thicker steels, new welding standards, new couplers and adding resilient energy absorbing layers to the tanks themselves. They designed a new "next generation" tank car that is allegedly 300 percent safer. Dow chemical has issued proposals for a fleet of such cars, but nothing has been done as of December 2009.

The Federal Railroad Administration, better known as the FRA, has been mandated by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 to look analytically at risk reduction associated with all aspects of hazmet transportation.

The University of Illinois at Urbana has developed a operations research modeling program everyone (the FRA ) is enamored with that allegedly deternmines the safety benefit versus additional cost or weight for specific chemicals. The problem, as is the case with all mathematical simulations, is the assignment of "weights" to various contingencies, which is basically voodoo.

So the situation is improving, although slower than spilled maple syrup going up a steep hill on a hot day.
Avatar universal
HazMat Experts and Firefighters petition Dow Chemical and Union Pacific for safe rail tank cars transporting gas chlorine. Secondary containment is a necessary improvement that must be implemented. See--PETITION C KIT for First Responders Comments.
Avatar universal
HazMat Experts and Firefighters petition Dow Chemical and Union Pacific for safe rail tank cars transporting gas chlorine. Secondary containment is a necessary improvement that must be implemented. See--PETITION C KIT for First Responders Comments.
144586 tn?1284669764
The tank car safety issue has been around for a while. The problem is there is a heavy investment in tank cars that do not meet current standards and considerable expense to be borne in upgrading them. Some tank cars, with tank wall thickness less than is desired, cannot be upgraded. Proposals for anti-climbers, different couplers, as well as a means for progressive failure construction have been advanced. There is also, unfortunately, a difference of opinion regarding the potential for catastrophe and the influence of powerful lobbiests. Remember how long owners resisted the mandatory installation of sprinkler systems in hotels? Dow Chemical and Union Pacific are in general responsible corporations, however they need a little kick-in-the butt to get off the dime in respect to the tank car issue. Some of the arguments advanced center around the limited life of railroad cars, which must be removed from interstate service after a certain number of years. A provision should be made to ascertain if continuing these cars in service for a reasonable time after conversion can be permitted under regulation, to permit amortization of rehabilitation costs. Another issue concerns track conditions, which are graded by federal authorities, and speed restrictions are placed on track that does not meet standards. It should be considered that hazardous tank cars only be routed over track that meets the highest standards, unless a waiver is granted. This is a very serious public safety issue issue that has not been addressed as a priority by federal legislatures, nor the railroads and chemical companies.
144586 tn?1284669764
There is a great deal of material on the internet regarding the safety of tank cars. "Engineering Study on the structural integrity of railroad tank cars having accidents under full loading conditions", August 2008, is one of them. The FRA has developed many regulations, but the regulations and inspection requirements have not been satisfactory. It is interesting that operations research simulation models have been in use since the 1960's but it took until 2009 for the FRA to produce such models for simulated derailments and accidents with tank cars. The problems inherent in the construction and use of hazardous liquid transporting tank cars are quite interesting, and considering that the problem has existed for over a hundred years, the fact we still have not satisfactorily addressed the safety issues is disheartening.
144586 tn?1284669764
One problem not properly addressed in response protocols revolves around the limited time a rescue worker can function when properly clothed for work in an environment where there are toxic fumes and hazardous liquids. The problem is heat exhaustion, and the build up of heat within the HAZMET suits.  This severely constrains the time that crews can engage in hard physical labor within a contaminated area. One solution is to have vests beneath the clothing providing are circulation. Another is to have pockets in such a vest in which frozen plastic units of the type carried on picnics to keep the food cool are stored, frozen in a refrigerator in large quantities and available in an emergency to provide for the large numbers of individuals who will be working. You need many such units, the vest to carry them, and they require time to be frozen so as to be available on a moments notice. A refrigeration unit to store large numbers of these units on chemical response vehicles would be desirable.
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