Railroad safety

The Local Emergency Planning Committee met Thursday afternoon and heard from a speaker on the subject of hazardous chemical spills on railways.

The speaker, Executive Vice President of Environmental Works Inc., John Rode, was there as a substitute for Manager of Hazardous Materials Field Operations Derek Lampkin of BNSF Railway, who was unable to be present at the meeting. During his presentation, Rode said railroads often saw shipments of hazardous materials. In 2014, BNSF saw about 1.8 million shipments of hazardous materials via railway.

Rode talked about the safety measures taken during these shipments, including items called “rupture disks” on liquid tank cars.

“Most of us will understand, if you have a package and it can create pressure, it needs to have a way to let pressure off,” he said. “A lot of these cars that carry hazmat materials that are corrosive — have a pH that’s high or low — will have a rupture disk. It’s a mechanical device that relieves pressure.”

However, once it relieves pressure, it won’t reset on its own and has to be reset manually by someone such as Rode.

Generally, according to Rode’s presentation, about 73 percent of hazardous materials incidents occur due to human error. Mechanical error accounts for 20 percent and problems with rupture disks only account for 7 percent of such incidents.

He said BNSF has access to a team that will mobilize to handle disasters on its railways. BNSF employs Environmental Works for this purpose.

“We’ve developed a lot of specialized equipment,” Rode said.

This includes a fleet of industrial firefighting trailers, emergency breathing air trailers, chlorine kits, midland kits and air monitoring assets.

The firefighting trailers are equipped with special pumps that can be used to fight fires that might be caused by train derailments in place of using local trucks that could be damaged in the process.

“We can tear them apart, move them piece by piece, we can bury them in the mud, we can flip them upside down, we can catch them on fire,” he said. “And we don’t put our communities in a situation where they’ve lost their apparatus or we’ve damaged it.”

Rode said the team can use AFFF foam to fight gasoline fires and alcohol resistant AFFF foam for alcohol fires. These are only some of the devices provided to help handle hazmat incidents.

“They are not disposable to us, but they are more disposable than the community’s apparatuses,” Rode said of the assets his team had for use in the event of disasters on BNSF-owned rails.

According to Rode, foam trailers can be loaned out to railroads other than BNSF and communities that request its use.

While Lampkin was unable to present at the meeting, he was reachable by phone later that day.

“We operate in 28 states, three Canadian provinces, and we have 32 fire trailers systemwide,” he said. “Our fire trailers are utilized for BNSF hazmat incidents, but if there was a community incident that affected a rail or right of way that really wasn’t a BNSF fault, we would definitely bring pieces of equipment to help out the first responders to minimize that so we can keep our services rolling.”

During Rode’s presentation, he also talked about a large crude oil spill on a BNSF track in Doon, Iowa, which occurred in the summer of 2018. There was a limited amount of information Rode could give, because the train wreck is still under investigation.

According to the Des Moines Register, the wreck involved the derailment of 32 oil tanker cars. About 160,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Little Rock River, according to the N’West Iowa REVIEW.

Rode talked about the process of handling the spill, starting with setting up an incident command center to mobilizing the fire trailers to recovering as much of the spilled oil as possible. He was unable to say how much of the oil was recovered except that it was more than 80 percent.

The process took about seven days.

“We didn’t have loss of life,” he said during his presentation. “I’ll say it very clearly: the railroad lost a great deal of money this day. No figure has been released. I can assure you it was a great deal of money. We had no injuries following, during the cleanup. That is a huge success for the railroad and the contractors.”

At the end of his presentation, Rode guided those present to www.bnsfhazmat.com.

Lampkin expressed regret that he was unable to be present at the meeting.

“Really, we just want to convey the response capabilities we have, preparedness throughout the community and our transparency for first responders and provide that free community training for the fire departments,” he said.

One of the local officials who takes part in the emergency planning committee, Lyon County Undersheriff John Koelsch, said he found the presentation informative.

“We found out some resources that we didn’t know were available,” he said.

Lyon County Emergency Manager Jarrod Fell agreed.

“I think the take away from all of our local emergency planning committee meetings is just to educate our group, our membership (and) provide information involving emergency planning,” he said.

The railway is an important part of the committee’s planning, Fell said, as BNSF-owned rails runs through Emporia and Lyon County.

“That’s an important part of our planning process, when we talk about our hazards and vulnerabilities, and (BNSF) did a great job in explaining to us their response to those emergencies,” he said.


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
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