MAC Safety Supports Railroad Safety

Since around 1830, trains have been used to transport goods across portions of the United States with growing popularity. According to the US Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration, the US freight rail network is now a $60 billion industry, which consists of 140,000 rail miles.

In this country, freight is moved by rail, truck, pipeline, water, and air. The rail network moves the largest portion, which “accounts for approximately 40 percent of US freight moved by ton-miles (the length freight travels),” according to the Federal Railroad Administration. The freight shipped by rail ranges from food to consumer goods, and from minerals to energy products.

railroadEnergy product shipments have demonstrated significant increases in recent years due to the expansion of the shale oil and gas industry, particularly with the advent of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, which have led to a sharp rise in US crude oil production in recent years. The product pulled from the ground is then transported via pipeline or rail.

Even with a number of pipeline projects in the works, the demand for rail car transport has increased. For example, according to the Association of American Railroads, in 2008 around 9,500 carloads of crude oil were transported by rail; however, by 2013, that number soared to nearly 408,000 carloads. In just the first half of 2014, that number stood at almost 230,000 carloads (complete 2014 numbers have not been released yet).

Consequently, increased transport has equated to increased accidents and spills. In the US from 1975 to 2012, 800,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled from rail cars according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. However, in 2013 alone in the US, 1.5 million gallons of crude oil were spilled from rail cars—more than the previous 37 years combined. When you include Canada into the mix, those numbers increase. In just one accident in July 2013, 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

mac-safetyStephen Timko, Railroad Safety Consultant, MAC Safety Consultants, Inc. noted, “The additional amount of hazmat moving by rail has caused an increase in incidents, all noted by the public and the news media. Statistics prove moving hazmat via rail is the safest way to transport it, but when an incident happens, it becomes national news.”

“Railroad safety is becoming more prevalent; therefore, more people need it. MAC Safety is a diverse, full-service safety company committed to providing a wide array of cost effective safety solutions and services including: safety and health consultations, safety professional staffing, safety attendant services, occupational medicine support, drug and alcohol testing, and industrial hygiene testing. We offer safety training for all aspects of rail operations, while many other companies do not,” relayed Kevin Miranda, Brand Marketing Manager, MAC Safety Consultants, Inc.

The safety and health professionals at MAC Safety have over two decades of experience servicing the shale oil and gas industry, railroad safety, chemical manufacturing, industrial manufacturing, power and coal fire plants, nuclear power, and security. In terms of train safety, MAC Safety offers safety training for employees involved in the billing, loading, unloading, and/or moving of rail cars.

“Most specific certifications are required only for rail operations outside the gates of industry. The one main exception is for loading, unloading, inspecting, billing, and moving hazmat shipments. Those regulations start when the railcar is placed for loading, or even earlier, when the car is received for loading at the industry,” explained Timko. “A complete checklist is mandated by government regulators when a railcar that will ultimately carry hazmat is received. Railcars must be inspected for defects of safety appliances, car structure, markings and qualification of test dates, proper placarding, and other bullet point items prior to loading. After loading, the checklist continues with checking for proper securing of hatches, filling and draining valves, caps, and other items.”

railroad2Timko added, “MAC Safety’s training is specific to the customer’s needs. This generally entails a review of the site, the writing of a safety and operating manual for the location, and then classroom and/or field training for the employees. This is followed up with documentation of the program. Site-specific training includes items such as maps, photos, physical characteristics of each location, and how the environment (curves, grades, sight distances, etc.) affect the operation. Everything is taken into consideration from artificial lighting to long-term weather conditions and interference from highway users. In addition, there is a review of and training on Federal Regulations governed by 49 CFR Part 172, which requires specific training and documentation for “Hazmat Employees,” who are basically anyone involved in the loading, inspection, movement, billing, etc. of railcars transporting hazardous materials.”

In addition, Timko says private industry rail operators need to understand and follow various safety rules that are usually a requirement of the industry. These include safely mounting and dismounting equipment; safe riding locations; use of bell, horn, and lights; how to couple and uncouple cars safely; how to adjust couplers; applying and releasing hand brakes; approaching road crossings; operating track switches; restricted speeds; personal protective equipment; and other items. Afterwards, “a short quiz on the content of the class is given to document the knowledge level of the employee. The documents are then turned over to the client to maintain in their training files,” relayed Timko.

railroad3As for train safety relating to the shale oil and gas industry, as opposed to other industries, Timko says there are no differences. “All railroad workers are trained on Hazardous Material Regulations by law. They could have a hazmat car in their train at any time. It could happen once a year or every day. They are trained in accordance with 49 CFR Part 172 regulations. It makes no difference if the hazmat is highly explosive or a car of fertilizer. It could be gasoline, butane, propane, sulphur, chlorine, explosives, or corrosives. The employees are all trained on the different classes of hazmat and have instruction booklets that are required to be carried with them on the train.” This training is mandated by the Federal Railroad Administration, and specific timelines are set forth on when the training must occur.

With proper training, some of these incidents that we hear about in the news could be adverted. These proactive efforts help eliminate or minimize the effects of a spill and the threat to life, the environment, and property.

MAC Safety Consultants, Inc. is headquartered in Beaver, PA and services Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. For more information on MAC Safety, check out their website at or contact them by emailing [email protected] or calling 724-847-3331.