{Jan. 2018}

Understanding Railroad Placards

8 Q&A Facts on the Significance of Placard Usage in Rail Transportation

Placard Source: Department of Transportation

1. WHAT ARE PLACARDS? By Federal Code, the definition and identification of hazardous material being transported by any mode requires that they be marked in a manner that is easily observed.  The “marking” is called a “placard”. 

2. WHEN ARE PLACARDS USED? Hazmat carriers, including railroads, are required to ensure hazmat cars are accurately marked, and hazmat railcar content documents are in the possession of the train crews moving the cars. Railroad hazmat incidents happen almost daily.  Most are so small that they are easily mitigated. (Rail transport is the safest mode of hazmat transportation.) Yet, placard recognition is critical to the safety of responders, and thus the general population. The first step to mitigation is to know what hazmat material is involved and its properties. The visible rail placard is diamond shaped.


3. WHY ARE PLACARDS SO IMPORTANT FOR RAILROADS? What makes railroad emergency hazmat responses different is - the volumes of material that must be contained and mitigated. A common rail tank car built after November 30, 1970, must not exceed 34,500 gallons capacity or 263,000 pounds gross weight on rail. Most emergency responders have little experience, or the equipment to manage an event of this size, and if there are multiple cars, it quickly becomes a major emergency. Rail tank cars must meet stringent standards for design and strength to withstand the significant stresses in a derailment or collision. Special attention is paid to valve protection.

4. WHAT DOES EACH PLACARD REPRESENT? There are many quick field reference resources for placard information. There are handbooks, computer software, smartphone apps, and 24 hour hazmat centers which can quickly interpret and give immediate advice on initial responses.   

5. A WORD OF CAUTION:  Mistakes happen in correct placard display. Lack of placard labeling usually means an “empty” car. However, a missing placard may be the result of theft or employee job failure.

6. AN “EMPTY CAR” MAY NOT ACTUALLY BE EMPTY. The Environmental Protection Agency rules for residues left in containers are found in 40 CFR section 261.7.  For an empty 34,500-gallon tank car, residue of up to 103 remaining gallons would be considered “empty” and requires no placard. Even in the instance of an “empty” tank, caution still must be used. There are required security measures for locations that have stored Hazmat rail cars. Refer to Federal Regulations found in the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) rules (49CFR). More source information is the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Hazardous Materials Safety Regulations (Title 49 CFR Parts 100-185).

7. WHEN ARE THESE CARS HAZMAT-FREE? Long term hazmat rail cars that are stored empty, must be cleaned completely of all residue and contain no hazards.  This must be done by a certified vendor in adherence with Federal Regulations.  Many communities fear these cars are dangerous. The railroad or corporation storing empty cars by law must disclose they were cleaned in compliance by Federal Code.

8. HAVE A LOCAL RAILROAD? Do you know what kind of materials are being transported on that railway? Do you have a plan in place for responding to a major hazmat rail incident? Clear Track Ahead is the solution.

Clear Track Ahead is a mapping technology company that teams up with Emergency Managers to ensure that they have the GPS maps needed for their 911 Centers to locate the specific location of a rail emergency. For additional information on how to incorporate railroads into your county’s EMERGENCY RESPONSE PLAN, contact Clear Track Ahead at (910) 790-3511 or visit our website Let us give you a custom quote on this technology that can help save lives.

{July 2017}

Actually, Size Does Matter

Yes, yes. We know what you are thinking! But when it comes to trains, size truly matters. And because their incredible size, your plans as Emergency Managers will have to reflect a train’s power and catastrophic magnitude.

Let’s compare the vast size of trains, and why their size is so important.

Data Sources: Department of Transportation, CSX

Cargo trains are mighty and efficient, but their wrecks are nothing short of a nightmare.

Do you know what material the trains passing through your community are CARRYING? Your emergency response plans need to include trains. Did you know all locomotives carry between 2,500-5,000 gallons of diesel, 400-500 hot crude case oil, and 50-100 gallons battery acid? Not to mention the contents of each car.


For example, when full, a single train car may be holding over 30,000 gallons of possibly dangerous material. Multiply that by 120 cars. Most people would assume that an “empty” car is actually empty, when in reality it may still contain up to 150 gallons of HAZMAT material. Now imagine all of that crashing together at full speed. Seems like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it? Well, when one of these massive train systems has a derailment or collision, the contents on the train can release toxic waste, cause a chemical reaction, and pose catastrophic danger to the local region.


Trains travel through all types of locations: rural, suburb, and well-populated city areas. With Clear Track Ahead’s custom GPS maps, Emergency Responders can be prepared. Each map has the railroad details you need, with precise locations, place names, and railroad mileposts, plus their relative location to community streets. This is especially important in desolate, hard to reach areas. We recommend that each county with railroads have a Clear Track Ahead map. Spread the word to your county neighbors, too. It is important for adjoining counties to also have these maps for their plans, because a rail catastrophe is often multi-jurisdictional.


PS. Wondering what’s inside that train that passes through your community? Stay tuned for our next article. We will explain about placards - the descriptive symbols labeling the contents within train cars.

4 Questions to Answer when Building
a Railroad Emergency Plan...

{Jan. 2017}

Trains are one of the most popular and efficient means of transportation. Including railroad details in your planning is essential. Let's get started.

Build a RR Response Plan
Build a RR Response Plan

Does our plan identify each separate railroad in the response area?

Build a RR Response Plan
Build a RR Response Plan

Does our plan include accurate emergency contact information for each railroad?

Build a RR Response Plan
Build a RR Response Plan

Is our plan reviewed, verified and updated for continued changes?

Build a RR Response Plan
Build a RR Response Plan

Does our plan identify each separate railroad in the response area?

#1 - Does our plan identify each separate railroad in the response area?
#2 - Does our plan include accurate emergency contact information for each railroad?
#3 - Does our plan incorporate railroad milepost locations on response maps?   
#4 - Is the plan reviewed, verified and updated for continued changes? 

There are 2 potentially dangerous rail situations: (1) a catastrophe occurs in a highly populated area, putting a multitude of civilians in harm's way; (2) a catastrophe occurs in a rural area with extremely limited access points. In either case, it is in the best interest of the community that it's First Responders are prepared to pin-point the precise location of the emergency, and contain the situation, not wasting time searching for mileposts. 

Railroads should not be mysterious entities in an emergency, yet local emergency response plans often don’t cover railroads to a necessary extent. The railroad poses all the threats and liabilities of a major highway system, with one exception: A rail disaster is usually monumental and frequently becomes a multijurisdictional event.

Did you know that most maps used by 911 Centers do NOT include common details used by train personnel? Critical to effective planning is having accurate maps that identify key infrastructure, hazardous locations, and difficult to access areas. Integrated rail and local dispatch decisions, based on the same mapping information, results in better directed emergency responses. This can SAVE LIVES and PROPERTY. 

Unlike other transportation systems, railroads are private and not dependent on the government. However, emergency pre-planning for a large-scale rail event is critical, especially as railroads become the most profitable and efficient form of U.S. freight transportation. 

YOUR SOLUTION: Clear Track Ahead is the industry leader in developing custom GPS maps for locations of interest. We will supply you with data inventory files of transportation routes.
Make your job as an Emergency Planner & Responder MORE EFFECTIVE with accurate map data that you can RELY on. "Print Maps" and "Digital Maps" so you can LOCATE the event quicker. SIMPLE to use, but if you have a question, we are a RESOURCE for you. Call Clear Track Ahead today - 910.790.3511

Uncovering 5 Myths About
the Maps your 911 Centers Use

{Dec. 2016}

911 Emergency Responders daily use maps to pinpoint accident locations.
As an Emergency Planner, you know that getting to the scene of an accident in rapid timing is important. A delayed response can often lead to progressed injury or death to victims, increased property damage, and potential environmental hazard.

But did you know that the current maps you use may be PART OF THE PROBLEM?

Let’s look at 5 MYTHS & Misunderstandings about the maps you use each day.

MYTH #1 - Railroads use the same community street maps as 911 Centers.

TRUTH - Railroads use a linear styled map called a “track chart”. It looks completely different than the street maps or topographic land maps you are probably used to. And unless you are an expert at interpreting railroad track charts, it will be like trying to decipher a foreign language.

MYTH #2 - Track charts use streets and county jurisdictions to determine their location.
TRUTH - Railroads rely completely on “mileposts” which has nothing to do with counties or streets. So in the event that a major catastrophe occurs on a railroad (especially in a hard to reach rural area), railroad officials will tell you their location based ONLY on the nearest milepost, not the closest street.

MYTH #3 - Emergency Responders have maps that include railroad milepost locations.
TRUTH - Unfortunately, this is usually not the case. Despite how detailed most maps used by Emergency Responders are, there is an alarming information gap. Mileposts, railroad place-names, utility lines, obscure grade crossings, and many more important details are left off the maps 911 Centers use. And when an accident’s location is difficult to find, several dreadful things can occur at the scene during the time wasted. A delayed response can often lead to progressed injury or death to victims, increased property damage, and potential environmental hazard.    

(BELOW: Images of the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia on May 12, 2015 which killed 8 people and injured many more.)

MYTH #4 - Railroads are infrequently used, so have little importance on Emergency Planning.
TRUTH - Increased fuel costs and initiatives to be more environmentally friendly have translated into more trains, increased speeds, and additional freight and passenger traffic. Industry experts predict that volume will double by 2035. The railroad poses all the threats and liabilities of a major highway system, with one exception: a rail disaster is usually monumental and frequently becomes a multijurisdictional event.

MYTH #5 - Integrating railroad track charts with 911 Center maps is both difficult and expensive.
TRUTH - Having a custom designed GPS map for your jurisdiction is actually SIMPLE and very AFFORDABLE! Clear Track Ahead, the industry leader in GPS mapping, will engineer both a digital and a printed map of your 911 jurisdiction, which works in conjunction with your existing ESRI software. Your new map includes a longitude/latitude address for each of these essential locations:
* Railroad right-of-ways for emergency planning
* 9-1-1 Jurisdiction by milepost location
* Railroad mileposts and unique "place names"
* Local roadways and grade crossings
* Recreational trails
* Bridges, tunnels, utility lines, structures
* Routes for movement of people and goods
* Inventory of infrastructure by type and location
You will be provided with both an electronic map and a hard copy printed version. A printed map is a helpful resource in the event of a power outage or for an Emergency Responder to use in the field. Using this information, emergency responders can locate and plan the best roadway access to the railroad's property. 


The SOLUTION to your 911 Center’s Needs:
An interoperable map from Clear Track Ahead is important because:
* Enhance emergency planning
* Improve response time
* Save lives and property
* Mitigate civil lawsuit damage
* Create safer work environments
* Build community confidence
* Meet the public's expectations of "Homeland Security”

Call us at 910.790.3511
to learn more!

Save LIVES, Save MONEY, Save TIME!

4 Simple Questions that every
Emergency Planner Should Ask...

{Sept. 2016}

These four questions point out the NEED to responsibly plan for railroad emergency events. Have you ever asked...

4 Simple Questions...
4 Simple Questions...

Is there a railroad in our emergency response jurisdiction?

4 Simple Questions...
4 Simple Questions...

Does that railroad carry hazmat materials or passengers?

4 Simple Questions...
4 Simple Questions...

What “911” number do we use to communicate in an emergency with our local railroad?

4 Simple Questions...
4 Simple Questions...

Is there a railroad in our emergency response jurisdiction?

#1 - Is there a railroad in our emergency response jurisdiction?

#2 - Does that railroad carry hazmat materials or passengers?

#3 - Does our CAD mapping have accurate railroad addresses on it?

#4 - What “911” number would we use to communicate in an emergency with our local railroad?

The public expects your professional response to be planned.  A key component and good place to begin a rail response plan is knowing who your railroads are and where they go.


Understanding how railroads are organized and operate is also critical to an emergency manager’s portfolio of plans in order to interpret and act quickly on a railroad report to 911. This information is rarely integrated on any 911 maps.
Putting rail lines and addresses on 911 dispatching maps is critical. Railroad maps and addresses are not like conventional 911 address maps.  Railroads address their systems based on a milepost system. 
CTA (Clear Track Ahead) integrates your current 911 mapping with railroad milepost mapping by giving you a pull down electronic map file that overlays the mapping used every day by your dispatchers.
Considering cost?  “Our County or community could never afford the 911 rail mapping option." In reality, it is quite affordable. CTA’s average cost for railroad mapping is $125/mile of main rail line track.  Do your own estimate.  A county or other emergency jurisdiction with 75 miles of track would cost less than $10,000 dollars.
Contact CTA for an estimate in your jurisdiction.  Don’t know the rail mileage?  CTA will estimate it for you at no cost. The estimate is quick, accurate and simple. CTA will help you get started.
Call (910) 790-3511 or e-mail us for cost-free estimate and basic rail emergency response planning ideas.

In a crisis, can your Emergency Responders quickly locate a Railroad incident?
Clear Track Ahead mapping is the Solution.