Know the Risks When Transporting Hazardous Materials by Rail

By OPW | Nov 19, 2019

Despite a significant increase over the past decade in the amount of hazardous materials (hazmat) that are being transported via the country’s railroads – driven in large part by historically high levels of crude-oil production – it has never been safer to do so. According to the Federal Railway Administration’s (FRA) 2018 rail-safety data report, between 2008 and 2018 the hazmat accident rate fell by 48%. In fact, in 2018 more than 99.999% of rail hazmat shipments were completed without the occurrence of an incident-caused release.

While the nation’s railroad operators should be understandably proud of these accomplishments, this is no time for them to rest on their laurels. The reality is that the next product-release incident can lie just around the next bend in the track.

There are three primary potential risks that railroad operators must be aware of every time a train laden with hazardous materials pulls away from the depot:

  • Accident: Accidents are the hardest thing predict and prepare for since their occurrence can be arbitrary and they are often caused by external factors that are entirely out of the operator’s control. These can range from an automobile or truck that has stopped illegally on the tracks to a tree that has fallen across the tracks during a passing storm.

The remaining two risks fall into the category of “non-accidental releases,” or NARs. An NAR is the unintentional release of hazardous materials during transportation, which includes material loading and unloading, that is not caused by an accident. There are two types of NARs:

  • Mechanical Failure: This category encompasses all leaks and other releases from malfunctioning or improperly secured pressurized railcar pressure-relief devices, valves, couplings, hoses, fittings and tank shells.
  • Operator Error: Human beings are susceptible – no matter their level of conscientiousness or training – to making errors. So, every precaution necessary must be taken to ensure that every coupling is attached properly and every valve is closed properly before, during and after every railcar loading or unloading. 

For instances when that looming (though increasingly rare) accident or NAR does occur, Midland Manufacturing, Skokie, IL, has created the B-240/B-243 Emergency Response Kit (ERK). These ERKs are marketed to fire departments, emergency-response contractors and railway dangerous goods officers, or any other organizations that employ first responders who are tasked with responding to railroad accidents or NARs.

Midland’s ERKs consist of a toolbox containing a broad range of tools and replacement parts; cover cans of five different sizes that are used to cap a leaking valve or fitting, along with corresponding gaskets; and a bridge that is used to secure a cover can to the railcar’s manway cover plate. The tools are highly engineered and designed to be durable no matter the pressures, product flows and general abuse they are subject to during a hazmat-release incident.

Midland offers ERK training classes and videos that are formatted to help the user perform confidently and proficiently during even the most dangerous release incidents.

For more information on Midland Manufacturing, Inc, and its complete portfolio of rail tank car products, please visit