Two Derailments in 10 Days Show Need for Hazmat Rail Training

Ten days after a major train derailment triggered a prolonged hazmat and fire response in Ohio, a train derailed in Texas after striking an 18-wheeler.

Union Pacific dispatched its hazmat team when 21 of its cars derailed northeast of Houston Feb. 13. According to Houston Public Media, the hazmat team was on scene to monitor the air as a precautionary measure. Police said the only hazmat release was about 100 gallons of diesel fuel from the truck and small amounts of household chemicals for retail sale.

This incident comes just after another derailment made national news.

Hazmat crews and other emergency responders spent days dealing with a train derailment that occurred in eastern Ohio Feb. 3. Overseeing a mandatory evacuation and air and water monitoring were some of the long-running issues facing emergency officials.

Also Read: HazSim Customer Spotlight: Norfolk Southern Railway Hazardous Materials Unit

WOSO and other news outlets reported that 50 cars on a Norfolk Southern train derailed near East Palestine, Ohio, which is near the Pennsylvania state line, about 9 p.m. Friday while en route from Madison, Ill. to Conway Pa.

Some of the derailed cars experienced a “drastic temperature change,” according to a press release from Gov. Mike DeWine’s office. In a Monday news conference, DeWine said, “The vinyl chloride contents of five rail cars are currently unstable and could potentially explode causing deadly disbursement of shrapnel and toxic fumes.”

Also Read: Prolonged Hazmat Operations at Ohio Train Derailment

To mitigate that situation, Norfolk Southern hazmat crews placed small charges on the railcars to open small holes to allow both the pressure and the material to escape. A containment area was dug prior to opening the cars. It took several hours, but the plan worked and no further explosions occurred.

Despite rail’s strong track record of safety, these two incidents are a reminder of how important rail response is to hazmat and first-due fire units.

Lt. Cristofer Burch, a 25-year fire service veteran, who is Norfolk Southern Railway’s instructor manager for hazardous materials advises fire departments and hazmat teams to use railroad companies’ teams as a training resource.

Also Read: 3 Lessons from Recent Train Derailments

Norfolk Southern’s Safety Train makes upwards of 18 training visits per year to teach hazmat responders how to handle rail incidents.

The Safety Train has classroom capabilities along with tank cars and a flat car with multiple types of tank car heads for hands-on training, he says. It also has a locomotive that we can walk through and use for a rescue scenario to remove injured railroad personnel.

“Even non-hazmat personnel at a fire department can benefit from our training by learning what to do and not to do in a situation involving an issue on rail,” Lt. Burch says.

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