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 Safety Investment and Innovations

Safety Investm​ent And Innovations

Railroads’ annual investments to modernize and improve America’s freight rail network have significantly contributed to freight rail’s strong safety record. There is a direct correlation between the increase in rail network investments and enhanced safety performance. With record levels of private spending on capital improvements and maintenance over the last five years and more than $600 billion spent since 1980, America’s privately owned freight railroads are at the forefront of advancing safety. 

Since 2000:

  • The train accident rate fell 38 percent
  • The rail employee injury rate fell 47 percent 
  • The grade crossing collision rate fell 42 percent

  • 10 Rail Safety Innovations 

    With more than 28,000 locomotives, more than 1.5 million rail cars and enough rail to circle the earth nearly eight​ times, U.S. railroads rely on advanced technologies​ to monitor the condition of the nearly 140,000 mile freight rail network and the locomotives and railcars moving across it. From ground penetrating radar used to identify problems beneath track to a vast network of wayside detectors to identify track and equipment components in need of repair or replacement, railroads are developing and deploying advanced technologies to enhance the industry’s safety. Many of these technological advancements are being developed, refined, and tested at the world’s leading rail research facility, the Transportation Technology Center, Inc. (TTCI), in Pueblo, Colorado, or at the industry’s premier information services company, Railinc, in Cary, N.C.

    1. Detecting Flaws Inside the Rails with Ultrasound Technology​

    Internal flaws in railroad tracks—caused by use and impurities introduced during the manufacturing process—are largely invisible to the human eye. Today, railroads employ defect detector cars and HiRail trucks with GPS, induction and ultrasound technology to help locate and identify these internal rail defects before they cause an accident. In addition, the world's first laser-based rail inspection system is being developed at TTCI.

    2. Maintaining Optimal Track Conditions ​


    How do you build railroad track that safely supports trains weighing over 3,500 tons, while maximizing the fuel efficiency of trains and the lifespan of the track? Through track geometry: the three-dimensional geometry of track layouts that encompasses everything from the alignment and elevation of track to its curvature and track surface. Today, railroads use sophisticated electronic and optical instruments to inspect all aspects of track geometry. At TTCI, railroads have developed on-board computer systems that provide even more sophisticated analyses of track geometry and predict the response of freight cars to track geometry deviations, allowing railroads to determine when track needs maintenance.

    3. Ensuring a Solid Rail Bed Foundation​


    A strong foundation is critical for any structure—and railroad tracks are no exception. Track ballast—the foundation, often made of rock, upon which railroad track sits—helps transfer the load of the trains to the underlying foundation while facilitating drainage of water and minimizing vegetation that might interfere with track structure. Over time, ballast breakdown can occur and lead to track instability. To measure this, railroads regularly use ground-penetrating radar to measure ballast thickness and identify areas where repairs are needed.

    4. Maintaining Rail Bridges ​

    With more than 100,000 privately-owned bridges in America's freight rail system, railroads are continuously seeking ways to monitor bridge health and detect damage in real time. At TTCI, researchers are developing a new generation of monitoring equipment to be installed on both trains and bridges in order to provide regular feedback on the health of each bridge. In addition, TTCI researchers are conducting research to gain insight into current bridge design, component standards and maintenance practices to identify new ways to extend the lifespan of rail bridges.

    5. Keeping Rail Wheels Turning Safely ​


    Wheel bearings—or "journals"—allow the wheels of a rail car to rotate freely along track, and the journal box holds the oil to keep wheel bearings operating smoothly. However, worn or defective wheel bearings can cause enough friction to heat up the journal box and create what is known as a "hotbox." During the early days of railroading, oil soaked wool would be placed in journal boxes to detect early signs of friction and overheating. When a journal box became overheated, the wool would smoke, alerting brakemen to an issue. Today, what was once detected with wool is now detected with infra-red technology and acoustic monitoring devices. For example, friction from a faulty wheel bearing causes a noisy rubbing sound—an 'acoustic signature' that can be recorded by track-side monitoring devices and used to alert railroads to early signs of stress.​

    6. Preventing "Truck Hunting" ​


    A rail car's axle and wheel suspension assembly is commonly known as its "truck." Trucks that are in proper alignment help to extend the life of rail car components and track, and help trains use less fuel. However, when trucks become warped or misaligned, a phenomenon known as "truck hunting" occurs. Truck hunting causes a rail car to oscillate which can damage the rail. To prevent truck hunting, railroads rely upon a laser-based monitoring system—truck bogie optical geometry inspection or TBOGI—that measures the alignment of a rail car's truck and identifies trucks that are not performing optimally.​

    7. Alerting Engineers to Wheel Failure​


    Similar to smart alert systems on many automobiles, advanced monitoring systems alert railroads when a train wheel is in need of repair. Wheel images captured by lasers show worn wheel treads or flanges, indicating when the wheels on a rail car need to be replaced. Meanwhile, wheel impact load detectors are used to measure vertical wheel loads as rail cars travel across track, and alert railroads when a wheel is warped and needs to be repaired or replaced.

    8. Positive Train Control (PTC)​


    Since 2008, freight railroads have worked closely with the federal government and passenger railroads to implement PTC—the largest and most complex safety system in the history of the railroad industry. This cutting-edge technology is designed to automatically stop a train before certain accidents occur.

    9. Improved Tank Cars​


    While railroads generally do not own tank cars, the rail industry for several years has been advocating for stricter tank car standards to help ensure the safe transportation of hazardous materials, such as crude oil. The rail industry has advocated for standards beyond what is required by federal regulation established by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation.

    10. Asset Health Strategic Initiative (AHSI) ​

    AHSI is a multi-year rail industry program that applies information technology processes to improve the safety and performance of freight cars and locomotives across North America. The program helps reduce mechanical service interruptions, improve the quality of railcar inspections and increase rail yard and repair shop efficiencies by consolidating equipment information, including ownership information, repair and inspection history, company recalls and more.



     Operational Safety And Security

    Operational Safety And Security

    ​Railroads use both industry-adopted and railroad-specific operating procedures to enhance railroad safety and security. These procedures cover areas such as employee responsibilities and training, train speeds, inspections, rail yard practices, locomotive operation, signaling equipment installation and other topics that directly and indirectly affect safety. These operating practices often go above and beyond what is required by federal regulation.

    Railroads are also subject to strict government regulations with regard to safety. These regulations direct safety practices in areas such as placement of rail cars carrying certain commodities in the train “consist,” routes, inspection of equipment and track, security procedures, equipment design and construction, speed restrictions and more.


    Inspection Procedures
    Employee Training
    Risk Analysis and Security Plan

    Railroad Inspection Procedures

    Railroads work diligently to ensure that rail equipment and infrastructure are operating safely and efficiently. Using advanced technology, railroads routinely inspect track components, bridges and equipment to proactively schedule maintenance. In fact, these inspections are often done with more regularity than required by federal regulation. The industry, through Railinc, has developed the Asset Health Strategic Initiative, which analyzes data and provides insights into equipment health to help railroads, rail car owners and other industry stakeholders make more informed maintenance planning and repair decisions.


    Railroad inspections are overseen by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) which employs more than 400 inspectors throughout the country. These inspectors visit rail facilities to ensure they comply with federal regulation. In addition, more than half of U.S. states employ their own inspectors who partner with FRA to provide supplemental oversight of rail facilities and operations.

    Rail Employee Training

    The rail industry’s excellent safety record reflects its unwavering commitment to safety, particularly for the approximately 170,000 rail employees who keep America’s freight moving 24/7. Through rigorous safety training programs, technological advancements, special operating procedures and partnerships with their employees, customers and government safety agencies, railroads have lowered employee injury rates by 84 percent since 1980 and 47 percent since 2000. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, railroads today have lower employee injury rates than most other major industries, including trucking, inland water transportation, airlines, agriculture, mining, manufacturing and construction.   

    Railroads instill a culture of safety from the start. They provide rigorous on-the-job training and classroom instruction. Many positions, such as locomotive engineers, have extensive requirements for certification and licensing as outlined by FRA and varies based on job description. Certification eligibility is based on a variety of factors, including prior safety conduct, compliance with alcohol and drug regulation, knowledge of operating rules and performance testing.

    Railroads’ dedication to keeping their employees safe goes beyond training. AAR is one of the founding members of the Switching Operations Fatality Analysis Working Group, a voluntary, non-regulatory, workplace-safety partnership formed to develop recommendations that help prevent railroad employee deaths during switching operations. Additionally, Class I railroads work with their operating employees to ensure they are well-rested and ready for duty, which is important to employees who work flexible schedules in a 24/7 business.

    Railroad Risk Analysis and Security Plan

    Enhanced security has become a long-term necessity to the freight rail industry and its partners have ensured that railroads are prepared for security related events. Using counter intelligence and national intelligence community best practices, five critical action teams—with the involvement of some 150 railroad industry, security and intelligence personnel—have established different aspects of the railroad system including hazardous materials, information technology, communications and military movements.

    The Railroad Security Task Force developed a comprehensive risk analysis and security plan, which includes:

  • A database of railroad-critical assets
  • Assessment of railroad vulnerabilities
  • Analysis of the terrorism threat        
  • Calculations of risk
  • Identification of countermeasures to reduce risk
  • Definition of alert levels
  • Delineation of actions to be taken at each alert level
  • Functions of the AAR Operations Center and Railroad Alert Network
  • The plan establishes four alert levels and describes a progressive series of actions to thwart terrorist threats to railroad personnel and facilities. The railroad sector maintains communication links with the ​​ U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state and local law enforcement to enable immediate response.

    The railroad security plan is a living document, because the risk assessment process is a continuous one. As conditions warrant, the plan is updated, revised and strengthened to ensure the security of the railroads and their continued service to the nation. Railroads are vital to the economy, national defense and public health, which is why it is essential that the rail network resumes full operations quickly following a security threat.




     Pedestrian Safety and Grade Crossings

    Pedestrian Safety and Grade Crossings

    ​A major concern for freight railroads is pedestrian and driver behavior at rail crossings. With 129,582 public rail crossings in the U.S., railroads work every day with state, local and federal officials and the public to help prevent accidents and injuries on the tracks. The federal “Section 130” program in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) provides federal funds to states— more than $220 million each year—to install lights and gates at grade crossings, while railroads spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to maintain and improve grade crossings and many millions more on programs and initiatives related to grade crossing safety. With a nearly 140,000 mile network that runs through towns and cities of all sizes, railroads also work closely with local communities to curb pedestrian trespassing on the tracks. Since 2000, railroads have decreased the total number of public crossings by 17 percent, while they increased the number of crossings with gates by 34 percent.

    See Tracks, Think Train!

    Freight railroads partnered with Operation Lifesaver, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the Federal Transit Administration to launch a nationwide public education campaign—See Tracks? Think Train!—to raise awareness about risky pedestrian and driver behavior around railroad tracks. Thanks to these kinds of partnerships, the Section 130 program, individual railroad outreach efforts and the work of Operation Lifesaver, the grade crossing collision rate has fallen nearly every year since 1980.



    ​Safety Tips

    Rail safety is for everyone, not just drivers. Pedestrians who choose to walk or play around railroad tracks are trespassing on private property and could be fined, seriously injured or killed. The following tips come from Operation Lifesaver:

  • The only safe place to cross is at a designated public crossing with either a crossbuck, flashing red lights or a gate. If you cross at any other place, you are trespassing and can be ticketed or fined. Cross tracks ONLY at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings.

  • Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and equipment are private property and trespassers are subject to arrest and fine. If you are in a rail yard uninvited by a railroad official you are trespassing and subject to criminal prosecution; you could be injured or killed in a busy rail yard.

  • It can take a mile or more to stop a train, so a locomotive engineer who suddenly sees someone on the tracks will likely be unable to stop in time. Railroad property is private property. For your safety, it is illegal to be there unless you are at a designated public crossing.

  • Trains overhang the tracks by at least three feet in both directions; loose straps hanging from rail cars may extend even further. If you are in the right-of-way next to the tracks, you can be hit by the train.

  • Do not cross the tracks immediately after a train passes. A second train might be blocked by the first. Trains can come from either direction. Wait until you can see clearly around the first train in both directions.

  • Flashing red lights indicate a train is approaching from either direction. You can be fined for failure to obey these signals. Never walk around or behind lowered gates at a crossing, and DO NOT cross the tracks until the lights have stopped flashing and it's safe to do so.

  • Do not hunt, fish or bungee jump from railroad trestles. There is only enough clearance on the tracks for a train to pass. Trestles are not meant to be sidewalks or pedestrian bridges! Never walk, run, cycle or operate all terrain vehicles (ATVs) on railroad tracks, rights-of-way or through tunnels.

  • Do not attempt to hop aboard railroad equipment at any time. A slip of the foot can cost you a limb or your life.

  • Be aware trains do not follow set schedules. Any Time is Train Time!

  • Resources

  • Operation Lifesaver​
  • BNSF Railway
  • CN
  • CSX
  • Canadian Pacific
  • Kansas City Southern 
  • Norfolk Southern
  • Union Pacific
  • ​​​





    Hazmat Transportation

    ​From the chlorine used to purify drinking water to the crude oil that brings the U. S. closer to energy independence, America’s freight railroads transport some of the most essential hazardous materials (hazmat). Today, 99.999 percent of all hazmat moved by rail reaches its destination without a release caused by an incident. This strong safety record is among the many reasons the federal government requires railroads to transport hazmat.

    Because hazmat safety is a joint responsibility, freight railroads work with hazmat shippers, railroad suppliers and government partners to develop specialized initiatives, regulations and standards to help ensure these important goods are transported safely and securely. All told, these initiatives—coupled with the rail industry’s ongoing commitment to infrastructure investment, technology innovation, rigorous employee training, self-imposed operating practices and community safety efforts—have lowered hazmat accident rates by 66 percent since 2000.

    Rigorous Hazmat Regulations

    The transport of hazmat is highly regulated by various government agencies, including the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA); the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA); and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)​. Among other things, federal regulation requires railroads to transport hazmat on routes that minimize overall safety and security risks and identifies the risk factors railroads should take into account when designating routes. Railroads, constantly seeking ways to improve their strong hazmat safety record, impose additional, industry adopted and railroad specific protocols that often go above and beyond those required by the federal government

    Specialized Hazmat Operating Procedures

    Railroads have adopted special operating practices for hazmat transport that often exceed regulatory requirements to help​ ensure these sensitive commodities are shipped safely and securely. These protocols were recently reviewed and expanded to cover all trains carrying a single carload of certain hazmat or 20 carloads of any combination of hazmat, such as crude oil​ and ethan​ol. These include protocols such as:

    Maximum speed restrictions for trains carrying a certain amount or type of hazmat

    Enhanced track inspection for routes carrying a certain amount of hazmat each year

    Strict operating practices in rail yards with regard to coupling and uncoupling cars

    Maximum track distance between wayside detectors used to identify defects in rail cars

    Providing emergency response planning groups with a list of hazmat transported through their communities


    The AAR Tank Car Committee is comprised of rail car owners and manufacturers, and hazmat shippers with participation from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT)​Transport Canada, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)​. The committee works together to develop technical standards for tank cars used to move hazmat. In 2011, the Tank Car Committee petitioned for and implemented standards that exceed those of the federal government. In 2013, railroads proposed enhanced government design and construction regulations for crude oil and ethanol tank cars and are adv​ocating for the swift retrofit or phase out of older tank cars​ carrying flammable liquids. In May 2015, PHMSA, in coordination with FRA, issued a final rulemaking​ on the movement of flammable liquids by rail, including crude oil and ethanol. The final rule includes enhanced tank car standards. ​



     Bridge Safety

    Railroad Bridge Safety 

    ​America's vast freight rail network stretches across nearly 140,000 miles, carrying millions of tons of freight to every corner of the continent. Vital to this expansive network are thousands of bridges, which allow trains to cross rivers, gorges and ravines that would otherwise be impassable. ​Railroad overpasses also help pedestrian and highway vehicle traffic flow better.

    Without strong and structurally sound bridges, America's freight rail network simply would not work. That's why freight railroads annually invest billions of dollars, employ the brightest and most-well trained bridge safety personnel and annually inspect the more than 61,000 Class I railroad bridges in the United States. While the rail network can be measured in miles, safety is ensured one track, one train and one bridge at a time. ​​​


    Quick Facts
    Class I Bridge Information
    Safety Programs
    Design & Capacity

    ​​​Quick Facts​

    America's railroad bridges are safe.
    It has been almost 60 years ​since a fatality occurred​ due to the structural failure of a railroad bridge on any U.S. railroad. 

    R​​ailroads work directly with the FRA.
    The FRA oversees all the bridge safety efforts the railroads undertake—​including the physical inspection, maintenance, repair and replacement of railroad bridges. 

    Only trained eyes can determine safety.
    Although the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the freight rail industry take concerns about a railroad bridge's appearance seriously, it is important to know that the cosmetic appearance of a railroad bridge rarely has anything to do with its structural integrity.  

    A team of qualified experts maintain railroad bridges.
    Railroads employ qualified railroad bridge engineers, inspectors and supervisors who use their extensive safety-oriented expertise to inspect, report on and provide customized maintenance for railroad bridges. 

    Railroad bridges carry less than they were designed for.
    When it comes to railroad bridges, age can be an asset. Older railroad bridges were often designed and built to carry far heavier trains than those in use today.

    Class I Bridge Information

    Canadian Pacific
    Norfolk Southern
    Union Pacific

    ​​​Railroad Bridge Safety Programs


    Freight rail takes an aggressive "safety first" approach to the inspection, active maintenance and repair of their bridges. As a result, railroads continue to maintain a stellar safety record. In fact, railroad bridges are among the safest segments of the nation's infrastructure.


    ​​​The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) provides bridge and safety oversight to the railroads. FRA regulations require that all railroads have comprehensive bridge safety management programs, which guide all bridge safety efforts and includes specific requirements concerning railroads' methods of inspection, evaluation and structural work. Each railroad's program is available to all relevant railroad personnel and any other individual or organization responsible for the application of any portion of the program. The FRA oversees these programs and many states have additional oversight to ensure the safety of communities large and small.​ Through its field enforcement staff, the FRA:

  • Participates in bridge accident investigations
  • Performs bridge assessments and bridge management program reviews
  • Provides direction and technical advice in bridge inspection, maintenance and management
  • Provides guidance on railroad bridge worker safety

  • Federal regulations require that all inspections are available to the FRA for review. Additionally, federal regulations task the FRA with conducting regular audits of bridge management program​s to evaluate inspection and maintenance practices and identify potential weaknesses that could impact safety. If an evaluation discloses problems, the FRA works with the railroad to resolve the issue. The FRA also responds to complaints regarding railroad bridges made by the general public. If deemed necessary for the safety of rail users, employees and the public, the FRA also has the power to issue civil penalties and emergency orders including prohibiting the use of any rail bridge it deems unsafe. ​​


    As required by law, every bridge management program fully documents and describes all railroad bridges in the railroad's network. Recorded information includes the loads, weights and speeds that are safe for each bridge.​ Additionally, each program:

  • ​​Prohibits the transportation of all loads except for those approved within the bridge safety program. Only a qualified railroad bridge engineer can make exceptions and may impose speed restrictions, limit the weight loads of other cars in the train or limit traffic from other tracks to maintain safety.​

  • Dictates annual inspections (at a minimum) of all rail bridges in a railroad's network as well as the process for carrying out any necessary repairs, modifications or bridge replacements. 

  • Requires additional inspections for bridges after accidents, incidents or weather events that may impact the structural integrity of a rail bridge. 

  • Undergoes regular internal and FRA audits to ensure the program's effectiveness, the validity of bridge inspection reports and bridge inventory data, the correct application of movement restrictions to railroad equipment of exceptional weight or configuration and a railroad's adherence to all requirements contained within the program. ​​​​

  • ​​​Railroad Bridge Inspections

    Regardless of age, history, traffic or conditions, regular inspection of railroad bridges contributes more to the ability to safely carry trains than any other component of bridge maintenance. In adherence with federal regulation, trained experts inspect railroad bridges at least once a year. More frequent inspections occur for bridges that see more intensive traffic or whose condition may warrant closer monitoring. Railroads follow an aggressive "safety first" policy and immediately alter or suspend service on any bridge until all concerns are addressed, and if necessary, repairs are made. ​


    Railroads designate a highly trained and qualified team to design custom inspection procedures for each railroad bridge. Each inspection procedure is designed to detect, report and address deterioration and deficiencies before they present a hazard to safe train operation. Inspection procedures are customized to address the biggest threats to a bridge's safety. For example, freight networks in areas prone to earthquakes take proactive steps to reinforce their railroad bridges and monitor seismic activity. ​As technology advances over the next decade, so will bridge inspection techniques. ​

    A team composed of a railroad bridge engineer, inspector and supervisor carry out the inspection function. To conduct a rail bridge inspection, this team of experts visually reviews all components of a bridge, including its foundation, which sometimes require dive crews for underwater analysis. Inspectors look for any anomalies or structural changes. Indications such as cracks, loose connections, strained bolts or rivets, and distortion of bridge components all prompt further analysis. For any part of a bridge that is not directly visible, inspectors can employ other inspections techniques such as 'sounding' or 'boring' to understand the condition of nonvisible bridge elements.

    After an inspection, both an initial and full report of the inspection's findings are quickly filed with a railroad's bridge management program. Railroad bridge supervisors and engineers then review all completed bridge inspection reports and make them available to the FRA for review and reproduction.

    Finally, when a bridge inspection identifies necessary maintenance, repairs, or wholesale replacement, the railroad funds and executes the work. Railroad bridge supervisors oversee each repair or modification and ensure that railroad traffic that travels over the bridge adheres to the bridge design specifications.

    ​​​Railroad Bridge Design & Capacity


    To a casual observer, a railroad bridge may look deceivingly simple—​either new or old, long or short, tall or wide. To the trained eye of railroad bridge safety experts, each bridge is amazingly complex. Of the more than 61,000 Class I railroad bridges in the United States, each one has a unique history, is tasked with supporting a unique pattern of rail traffic and must ensure safe and smooth travel for passengers and freight.

    This complex reality guides the operation and maintenance of existing rail bridges and design and construction of new ones. As just one example, when determining the capacity of a bridge, freight railroads must take into account natural forces such as average wind speeds and the soil composition upon which the bridge is built. They must also analyze the way the weight of a train's cargo will be distributed across a bridge, which can vary greatly from intermodal to automobile or coal shipments.


    ​​Railroad bridge experts must also understand how the entire freight and passenger rail industry—​driven by technological innovation—​will change over time. No example illustrates this important dynamic more than the evolution of the locomotive. Many of the oldest rail bridges in use today were built to support locomotives that, due to technological and engineering limitations, were significantly heavier than today's lighter, more environmentally friendly locomotives. ​

    This is one reason why bridges—​​even those built of a material such as timber—​remain safe and structurally sound. It is also one of the many reasons why rail bridge inspectors are highly trained to look beyond what's visible to the untrained eye to determine the safety of rail bridges across the entire network. While cosmetic blemishes such as rust and cracks may be alarming to a passerby, only trained engineers can determine if it impacts a bridge's safety. This is also why freight railroads share their findings with other highly trained individuals and organizations—​including the FRA—​to ensure that facts determine safety, not casual observation.​


    As technology advances over the next decade, so will bridge inspection techniques. 

  • ​Currently, railroads are beginning to use drones for bridge inspection and this will continue to be built upon as a strong form of predictive maintenance.​

  • Railroads are considering alternative bridge designs and materials, alternative steel bridge retrofits, higher strength concrete bridges and innovative steel and concrete bridge designs using new and cost-effective bridge construction materials.

  • The use of science-based inspection methods, robotic-assisted inspection tools in conjunction with machine vision and onboard detection of changes in bridge condition will provide better information for capital and maintenance decisions.

  • Selected bridges in the future may have in-track, self-diagnosing condition monitoring systems to monitor the health of the critical track components and communicate potential failures well in advance of the failures occurring.

  • Through wireless communication systems, a variety of smart sensor networks could provide actionable information to the railroads regarding bridge structural integrity.




     First Responders And Emergency Response

    ​First Responders And Emergency Response

    Freight railroads share with first responders a fundamental commitment to the safety of the communities they serve all across the country. For decades, that commitment has been demonstrated in many ways, including support for communities and the men and women who protect them —before, during and after a railroad incident.


    Notification and Planning
    Emergency Response
    Community Support


    The nation's freight railroads collaborate with different partners and government organizations to provide an array of hazmat by rail training opportunities to first responders. In fact, railroads help train tens of thousands of emergency responders each year with programs and outreach efforts which range from learning about general rail operations to detailed hands-on courses that show how to respond to a variety of rail incidents. 

    TTCI and SERTC: World Class Railroad Training Facilities

    The Transportation Technology Center, Inc. (TTCI), a subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), established the Security and Emergency Response Training Center (SERTC) in 1985 with the original mission to train railroad officials to safely handle accidents involving tank cars carrying hazmat. Because the training was so successful, SERTC was later expanded to other participants, including those from the chemical industry and government agencies. Railroads regularly provide funding to emergency responders in their service areas to attend training courses at the world-class SERTC training facility in Pueblo, Colorado, which offers extensive hands-on training for hazmat incidents involving surface transportation. While at this high-tech facility, first responders from all over the world train on the actual transportation equipment they will encounter in the field. For those unable to attend in-person, SERTC and the railroads created a free, web-based training course that provides first responders the basic knowledge needed to respond to incidents involving crude by rail. 

    TRANSCAER: Nationwide Training for First Responders

    TRANSCAER®  (Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response) is a voluntary, national network that promotes the safe transportation and handling of hazmat. TRANSCAER members consist of volunteer representatives from the chemical manufacturing, railroads, distributor, and emergency response industries, as well as the government . TRANSCAER provides over 400 training opportunities annually to first responders, and railroads partner on the delivery of some of this training. One key rail component is the TRANSCAER "safety train," a rolling classroom that travels from community to community to provide hands-on training to local first responders.

    local firehouse visits and Table Top Drills

    Railroads understand the hectic and unpredictable schedules first responders keep as well as their funding challenges for ongoing professional development and training. To meet the varied training needs of first responders, railroads visit hundreds of local firehouses each year with classroom and face-to-face hazmat training. Additionally, railroads regularly partner with local emergency responders to conduct emergency simulations, known as "table top drills," to help streamline communication and improve response in the event of a hazmat incident. 

    Self-study: Another Training Option

    Like the SERTC crude by rail online training, railroads provide self-study programs to emergency responders so students can learn at their own pace.  AAR, The American Petroleum Institute (API), The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and TRANSCAER® collaborated with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to develop the Transportation Rail Incident Preparedness and Response (TRIPR) training courses and resources. These free, online resources help first responders and the rail industry at large learn from past experiences and leverage the expertise of public safety agencies, rail carriers, and industry subject matter experts to safely manage incidents involving flammable liquid unit trains such as crude oil and ethanol. 


    Notification & Planning 

    Railroads communicate with communities,  first responders, state agencies and other relevant organizations to educate and inform them about hazardous materials that move through their communities. These communications take place through a formal information-sharing process and demonstrate the railroads' commitment to working closely with first responders across the nation's nearly 140,000-mile rail system. 

    Technology innovation: Helping Mitigate Rail Incidents

    To advance safety, railroads mitigate potential rail incidents long before they can happen by investing in and developing different tools and systems that manage and assess potential risks of moving hazardous materials by rail.  For example, railroads partnered with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop the Rail Corridor Risk Management System (RCRMS). This sophisticated statistical routing tool analyzes 27 risk factors including hazmat volume, trip length, population density along the route, and emergency response capability to select routes that pose the least overall safety and security risk. 

    Information Sharing: Keeping First Responders Informed

    Railroads equip train dispatchers and crews with information about hazmat on trains with detailed emergency response information specific to those materials. Upon written request, AAR members will provide bona fide emergency response agencies or planning groups with specific, confidential commodity flow information covering all hazardous commodities transported through the community. Additionally, railroads notify State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) about the routes of trains carrying one million or more gallons of Bakken crude oil in their respective states.

    Coordinated safety planning & Resource sharing 

    Freight railroads actively collaborate with representatives from local fire and health departments, education institutions, industry organizations, transportation departments and the public to help communities develop and evaluate their own emergency response plans. To better prepare first responders for a potential hazmat incident, railroads developed and share an inventory of emergency response resources — including the location of response equipment and emergency contacts—along crude oil routes with local emergency responders. In addition to formal information sharing, freight railroads have regular on-the-ground collaboration with emergency responders through frequent review sessions and training exercises, which include discussions about the hazardous materials being transported through a given community.

    Emergency Response

    In the event of a hazmat by rail incident, the train conductor provides first responders with specific train and car consist information so they can quickly and effectively respond to the emergency. The railroads have emergency response teams strategically located along their routes who can work directly with first responders on-the-ground at the site of an incident. 

    24-Hour Response: A Nationwide Network of Emergency Response Teams 

    Railroads provide a 24-hour emergency hotline number for first responders to call in the event of an emergency. They also have teams of full-time personnel and environmental, industrial hygiene, hazmat, and medical consultants and contractors whose primary focus is hazmat safety and emergency response. These trained professionals are strategically located throughout the nearly 140,000 mile freight rail network and are available 24/7. As part of these teams, railroads also strategically position their own emergency response equipment along their routes. Additionally, all the major railroads have their own dedicated police force that works alongside emergency responders in the event of an emergency. Additionally, freight railroads provide 24-hour emergency hotlines which first responders or the public can call in the event of an emergency:

    BNSF 1-800-832-5452 (option 1)

    CN 1-800-465-9239

    Canadian Pacific 1-800-716-9132

    CSX 1-800-232-0144

    KCS 1-800-892-6295

    Norfolk Southern 1-800-453-2530

    Union Pacific 1-888-877-7267


    Mobile Apps Provide On-The-Ground Support

    The North American Class I railroads, AAR, Railinc Corp. and TTCI developed the free mobile AskRail™ app. The app provides emergency responders with immediate access to accurate, updated information about rail cars carrying hazmat at the scene of an incident so they can make informed decisions about how to effectively and safely respond to the incident. The app also provides the Emergency Response Guide Book and all the emergency hotlines for the class I railroads. AskRail is only available to qualified emergency first responders and is a safety tool that acts as a backup resource if information from the train conductor or train consist is not available. 


    Community Support

    Railroads and first responders share the same goal of keeping our nation's communities safe. During a hazmat by rail incident, railroads work closely with first responders to immediately respond to anyone who needs help and minimize any potential environmental  or property damage. The railroads provide the necessary resources to help mitigate the situation, house displaced citizens and safely clean up the incident.

    Helping Families in Need

    Railroads work with first responders to help families and individuals within an affected community. Railroads provide services for any misplaced families and maintain a presence in the community for as long as necessary to limit any inconvenience or displacement of community members. Oftentimes railroads will establish specific centers to assess and meet the long term needs of the displaced population. Additionally, railroads have dedicated claims teams to help resolve matters with affected citizens. The rail industry is developing a partnership with the Red Cross to provide additional support to first responders and communities in the rare event of a rail incident.


    Railroads work closely with first responders and other authorities and partners to swiftly and effectively carry out their emergency response plans. Railroads comply with applicable state and federal regulations and coordinate remediation efforts through local, state, and federal agencies. These regulations include, but are not limited to, how to report and clean up the incident and how to complete an investigation into what caused the incident. 

    Protecting the ENVIRONMENT

    Railroads work with state environmental agencies on any necessary cleanup efforts. They mobilize their cleanup contractors to contain spilled material and either remove or remediate spilled material. Remediation can take many different paths depending on what is spilled, and the environmental agencies use their expertise to determine the safest and most effective cleanup solution.