Common Carrier Obligation
Railroads have a “common carrier” obligation to carry hazardous materials. That means, unlike all other modes of transportation, railroads are required by the federal government to transport these materials, whether railroads want to or not. To address the risk and liability that railroads are forced to assume when they carry highly hazardous traffic, the railroad industry supports public policies that encourage chemical producers and users to substitute less hazardous products and technologies with highly hazardous materials whenever possible. (Source: Association of American Railroads)
A Safe History with Hazardous Materials
The rail industry has an outstanding record with safely delivering hazardous materials. Currently, 99.998% of all rail cars containing hazardous materials arrive at their destination safely, without any release of hazmat into the environment due to an accident. With our industry’s safety record still improving, the rail hazmat accident rate declined by 88% from 1980 to 2007, or an overall 39% since 1990. Though railroads and over-the-road trucks carry nearly the same amount of hazardous materials per ton-mile, trucks release 16 times more hazardous materials during shipment than railroads.
Employee Training and Emergency Response
Hazardous materials currently account for a small percentage of shipments across our railroads, but we take the safety and security of those shipments very seriously. Meeting all federal and state standards, our employees participate in hazardous materials transportation training, including training on types of hazmat railcars, inspecting hazmat railcars, hazmat transportation rules and standards, proper hazmat shipping papers, safety data sheets (SDS) and emergency response procedures.
We also work with regional emergency management agencies to plan our coordinated response to hazardous materials incidents that may arise on or around the railroad, and work with fire departments and other emergency responders in cross-training exercises to familiarize them with rail equipment and rail emergencies.