At the 2018 International Hazardous Materials Response Teams Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, first responders participated in hands-on rail hazmat safety sessions and learned about existing railroad safety tools available to them.

Freight railroads deliver 99.99% of their hazmat shipments safely; however, sustained investments in training, technology and specialized equipment ensure that first responders are prepared in the rare case there is a rail incident.

The Security Emergency Response Training Center (SERTC), a nationwide railroad industry training program that has trained more than 65,000 first responders and an annual exhibitor at the International Hazardous Materials Response Teams Conference sponsored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), offered insight into their programming and connected with first responders from across the country. From programs like SERTC to local firehouse visits and tabletop drills, freight railroads constantly work to put the right tools in the hands of first responders.

Norfolk Southern’s (NS) Operation Awareness & Response (OAR) program is just one example of how railroads are providing these resources for first responders. In April 2016, NS unveiled NS-5642, also known as the “safety train,” equipped with two classroom boxcars and several customized tank cars to further facilitate hands-on training along its network. Over 100 first responders that attended this year’s IAFC conference experienced NS’s “rolling learning lab” and connected with the railroad’s hazmat training team during two 8-hour breakout training sessions.

These sessions offered:

  • Information about the various rail safety training opportunities made available by the railroad to local first responders across their network.
  • A hands-on opportunity to learn and practice specific techniques for mitigating and controlling tank car breaches.
  • Information about the rail industry’s AskRail app, a safety tool developed in partnership with the IAFC, which allows responders to make informed decisions by providing immediate access to accurate and timely data about what materials a railcar is carrying.

Last year the NS safety train traveled across 14 states and 23 communities, training over 8,000 local first responders.

“Our safety train is helping Norfolk Southern build and strengthen relationships with first responders across our network,” said David Schoendorfer, NS System Manager of Hazardous Materials.