Hazardous Materials TransportationRail transportation of hazardous materials in the United States is recognized to be the safest method of moving large quantities of chemicals over long distances. In the United States, approximately 800,000 shipments of hazardous materials are transported each day in bulk and in smaller shipment configurations. In regard to bulk rail shipments, the industry uses roughly 200,000 rail tank cars. A subset of these cars moves over 275,000 shipments of chlorine, anhydrous ammonia, propane gas, and gasoline every year. Statistics show that the rail industry's safety performance, as a whole, is improving. In particular, the vast majority of hazardous materials shipped by rail tank car every year arrive safely and without incident, and railroads generally have an outstanding record in moving shipments of hazardous materials safely.
For all hazardous materials, in the 12 years from 1994 through 2005, hazardous materials released in railroad accidents resulted in a total of 14 fatalities. In the same period, hazardous materials released in highway accidents resulted in a total of 116 fatalities. Continuous sponsored industry and government improvements in rail equipment, tank car and container design and construction, and inspection and maintenance methods have resulted in reducing derailments, spills, leaks, and casualties while the volume of traffic increases.
Objectives of the hazardous materials research program include:
- Recognize incident trends by analyzing the accident/incident database and find, through research, ways to minimize the incident rate of leaks, spills, and damage to the environment due to hazardous materials releases.
- Lower the potential for loss of lading and reduce the exposure of hazardous materials to the environment and population in the event of a train accident caused by a derailment.
- Improve methods of inspection for tank car damage through the investigation of promising non-destructive detection technologies.
- Investigate emerging technologies and take advantage of national and international research programs that will increase the safety and efficiency of rail transportation.
- Continue to provide support to the Office of Safety's goals through the development of regulations and standards, as well as take a more active role in the tank car design approval process as a result of the changing roles of industry partners as the industry evolves.
Goals of the hazardous materials research program include:
- The hazardous materials research program includes fostering innovation throughout the industry, helping development of new regulations and design standards that improve the safety and integrity of tank cars and other packages carrying hazardous materials, and continuing growth of new research programs that satisfy the need of the industry and government.
- Fostering innovation. Throughout the years, FRA has had a substantial influence on technical research and development. These public research and development programs have helped the development of new technology by advancing basic knowledge and understanding. The information generated by this research is the most important product, helping to improve the new product or process to improve the package.
- Regulations and standards. Since regulation of private activity is accomplished by specifying a limited number of conforming designs and processes, considerable economic pressure exists to continue use of the technology embedded in those designs and processes. It is the nature of government regulations that acceptable designs will not generally include the latest and most efficient technologies. FRA wants to devise strategic and tactical plans that include getting involved in areas where a clear societal benefit exists, causing the least disruption to the economic process. These plans will include new technologies to improve the tank car's integrity, as well as safe and rapid transport of hazardous materials.
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