Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tracking HAZMAT Railcars

One of the complaints that one periodically hears from local law enforcement and first responders is that they do not know what types of hazardous materials (HAZMAT) are moving through their towns on highways and train tracks. They have almost always been met by the response that it is too difficult to track these shipments on a timely basis. That may be changing if a recent report on GSNMagazine.com is accurate, at least for rail traffic. According to the article:
“TSA has awarded a contract worth more than $600,000 to Railinc Corp., a subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads, to provide it with a continuous data feed about rail car movements and bulk shipments of sensitive cargo, such as explosives, toxic inhalation hazardous materials and radioactive materials.”
Tank Car Tracking Project Last year in the Freight Rail Modal Annex to Transportation Sector-Specific Plan TSA described a tank car tracking project (page 12). It would gather data using “wayside detectors and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags” that the railroads were using to track rail cars. A pilot project was started with TSA, the FRA and Railinc. It would “provide the government with timely car location reports on all TIH and other selected HAZMAT car”. It is not clear from the present article if the contract is part of that pilot project or an out growth from a successful conclusion of that project. In any case, the contract size is much too small to be able to provide a comprehensive reporting capability to allow local community first responders access to real time data about HAZMAT shipments through their community. Growing a HAZMAT Tracking System The data being gathered in the pilot project and presumably in this contract could provide a basis for constructing such a notification procedure. This information would have to be analyzed by a GIS based system to determine where the reported locations were in relation to communities desiring the information. There would have to be a communication protocol that would provide the appropriate information to the local responder. Finally, there would have to be a software package at the local responder level that would allow real time access to the data to provide hazard information in the event of a transportation incident. Additionally, local responders and emergency planners would need to have access to periodic summary data to see what types and quantities of HAZMAT were transiting the community. This data would allow them to prioritize the purchase of response equipment and supplies. It would also allow them to select the appropriate training for the local first responder population. Watching the Way Forward It will be interesting to see if the TSA does grow this contract into a process that allows first responders access to information about HAZMAT shipments moving through their community.

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