Have you ever wondered as you drive down the highway about those trains you see rolling along, and what on earth could be in all those cars?  You also see lots of graffiti, done by some local “artists” along the way, and can’t help but question all the places that train has been.  One thing you need to understand, is that many of those cars are carrying hazardous materials, and in the event of a derailment, or spill, you need to drive away from the area as soon as possible. 

Railroad companies are overseen primarily by the Federal Railroad Administration, but also answer to the Department of Transportation, and the National Transportation Safety Board.  No person may transport a hazardous material in commerce unless that material is properly classed, described, packaged, marked, labeled, and placarded and is in condition for transportation according to DOT regulations.  Railroad Company computers are able to track the trains at all times. 

For your information, here are the hazard classes and divisions:

  • 1 – Explosives (1.1 – Explosive with mass explosion hazard; 1.2 – Explosive with projection hazard; 1.3 – Explosive with predominantly fire hazard; 1.4 – Explosive with no significant blast hazard; 1.5 – Very insensitive explosive; blasting agent, and 1.6 – Extremely insensitive detonating substance.)
  • 2. – Gases (2.1 – Flammable gas; 2.2 – Nonflammable, nonpoisonous, (nontoxic), compressed gas; and 2.3 – Poisonous (toxic) gas (by inhalation).
  • 3 – Flammable Liquids
  • 4 – Flammable Solids and Reactive Solids/Liquids (4.1 – Flammable solid; 4.2 – Spontaneously combustible material, and 4.3 – Dangerous when wet marked.)
  • 5 – Oxidizers and Organic Peroxides  (5.1 – Oxidizer; 5.2 Organic peroxide.)
  • 6 – Poisonous (Toxic) Materials/Infectious Substances (6.1 – Poisonous (Toxic) material; 6.2 – Infectious substance.
  • 7 – Radioactive Materials
  • 8 – Corrosive Materials
  • 9 – Miscellaneous Hazardous Materials

Worded Classes

Combustible Liquids (regulated in bulk packaging only)

ORM-D (Other Regulated Materials – D) (regulated in air transportation only; not regulated in rail transportation. 

Shipping hazardous materials are time-sensitive.  Those under a 20-day time limit to arrive are:

  • 1.      Ethylene, refrigerated liquid
  • 2.      Hydrogen, refrigerated liquid
  • 3.      Chloroprene, stabilized
  • 4.      Flammable liquid, N.O.S.
  • 5.      Hydrogen chloride, refrigerated liquid
  • 6.      Vinyl fluoride, stabilized

Those having a 30-day shipping limit are:

  1. Styrene monomer, inhibited
  2. Flammable Liquid, (Recycled styrene) 

When transporting hazardous material shipments in a train, a member of the train crew must also have acceptable emergency response information and a document showing the current position of each hazardous material in the train.  This documentation provides railroad and emergency response personnel with accurate information for every hazardous material being transported. 

Next, In Part II, we will talk about what type of training railroad crews experience to be prepared for a hazardous material spill caused by a railroad derailment or railroad car leak.  Please read on…..

Source: Daniel Burlison, Retired Manager, Train Operations