US railroads begin hazmat reroute study

01 July 2008 18:41  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US railroads began a six-month survey on Tuesday under a federal mandate to determine how best to reroute hazardous tank car cargoes around population centres, a move generally welcomed by the country’s chemicals industry.


Under a rule issued earlier this year by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), major US rail carriers are to gather cargo, route and risk factors data on existing shipments of toxic inhalant hazard (TIH) products.


TIH cargoes, what the rail regulators term poison inhalation hazards (PIH), include chlorine, ammonia, ethylene oxide, methyl bromide and sulphuric acid.


There are approximately 12,000 chemical tank cars on the US rail system that carry chlorine and ammonia.  A smaller fleet of some 3,000 tank cars handles ethylene oxide, methyl bromide and sulphuric acid.


Under the FRA rule, from Wednesday through the end of this year railroads must gather data on TIH shipments, routes now used and the safety and security risks along those routes. 


As part of the data collection, rail carriers must consult with state and local government agencies to determine security risks to high-consequence locations in their areas.


From 1 January 2009 the railroads will have eight months to conduct risk and route assessments and, beginning 1 September 2009, use those assessments to begin sending hazmat cargoes along the least risk routes.


In assessing risks along current routes for TIH shipments, the FRA requires that railroads consider 27 factors, including the volume of hazardous material being shipped, traffic density, length of route, population density along the route, train speed, past incidents and availability of practical alternative routes, among others.


Tom White, spokesman for the Association of American Railroads (AAR), said major US rail carriers are complying with the rule, “but we have no idea right now how much traffic will be rerouted”.


Noting that the survey period has only just begun, White also said the association could make no estimate yet on what additional costs or time delays might be generated by the rerouting.


White pointed out that TIH cargoes constitute an extremely small portion of rail freight, with some 100,000 TIH carloads annually out of 33m total carloads shipped, or 0.3%.


Scott Jensen, spokesman for the American Chemistry Council (ACC), said his industry has supported the rail administration’s rerouting rule, saying the requirement will “enhance security but won’t affect transportation of these vital materials”.


Jensen also noted that with the FRA taking the lead in rerouting hazardous rail freight, it reduces the prospects of multiple state and municipal governments taking their own actions to regulate the movement of such rail cargoes.


The US chemicals industry and other heavy rail freight users joined the AAR in 2005 in a successful court challenge to a city council ban on hazmat rail traffic through Washington, DC.


($1 = €0.63)


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By: Joe Kamalick
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