Considered one of the safest methods of transportation for chemicals and crude oil, hazardous materials are often transported throughout the United States via rail. To keep accidents to a minimum and ensure the safest possible transport, both the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) publish safety regulations for rail shippers and rail-tank cars, the most common conveyance for hazardous materials.
However, during the crude by rail boom of 2013-2015 there were many more tank cars in use, a trend prompted by the growth of domestic U.S. crude oil production. The rise in domestic crude production coupled with low oil pipeline capacity caused the subsequent growth of rail transport of crude oil which led to an increase in non-accident release (NAR) leaks. Public concern also grew when derailments and talk of inferior tank car types were reported in the news.
DOT Cracks Down, Makes Recommendations
To address these mounting concerns, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation initiated an audit in the FRA’s handling of accidents and NAR incidents last year.
The findings — that violations and resultant accidents and NARs were rarely punished to the full extent of the law — were extremely troubling to the DOT. In response, they issued a list of seven recommendations for improvement:
- Periodic comprehensive hazardous materials transportation risk assessments
- Resource allocations guidance for regions
- Develop better reporting and tools for inspectors
- Update inspector guidelines for violation writing and reporting
- Strengthen penalty processing procedures at the assessment stage
- Produce annual reports of violations and penalties
- Require inspectors and all other staff to report suspected criminal violations, including those leading to NARs, to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the DOT
The FRA not only accepted the recommended changes, but went directly to work preparing them for implementation between August 2016 and March 2017.
Advancements in Safety Equipment and Training
Despite recent high-profile accidents and NAR incidents, there have been a wide range of impressive safety-related advancements in the railroad industry in the past few years.
Across the United States, rail shippers and rail right-of-way owners are implementing cutting-edge technologies to improve safety, including:
- The network-wide implementation of the Positive Train Control automatic stopping technology
- Drones for effective and efficient track and bridge inspection
- And multidimensional ultrasonic technologies to detect track defects before they worsen or cause an issue
Railroads are even able to use big data to spot trends in equipment failures. These and similar initiatives, combined with vast infrastructure and equipment improvements, have helped today’s railroads become the safest they have ever been, according to federal statistics.
Renewed training and education initiatives are also in place for new and veteran railroad workers alike. Crude-by-Rail, for example, offers a free online safety and incident response training course designed by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
NAR Avoidance with GRI
Gasket Resources Inc. (GRI®), a leading fluid sealing solutions manufacture, offers SecureTrack™, a training and material standardization program designed to help rail shippers prevent hazard material NARs in their rail-tank car fleets.
SecureTrack®, a comprehensive program fully customizable to your specific hazardous material freight, covers all aspects of NAR prevention. Working with expert GRI® team members, you will be guided through material standardization processes, equipment upgrade and standardization, procedural training, and specialized bolt tightening methods.
Standardization of all material, equipment, and processes is by far the most effective way to improve the safety of your rail-tank cars and eliminate NARs. At GRI®, standardization is the focus of all of our safety efforts, and we remain committed to staying up to date with industry safety standards.
To learn more about how GRI® can help prevent NARs, download our rail shipper case study, “Avoid NARs with Identa-Seal®” today.