Understanding Railroad Placards

January 10, 2018

8 Q&A Facts on the Significance of Placard Usage in Rail 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 EMPTYThe 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 ClearTrackAhead.com. Let us give you a custom quote on this technology that can help save lives.

 

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