Railroads Initiate Three-Day Embargo On Certain Hazardous Materials

Nov. 1, 2001
CONCERN about hazardous materials classified as poison inhalation hazards prompted the nation's railroads to impose an embargo on their shipments in early

CONCERN about hazardous materials classified as poison inhalation hazards prompted the nation's railroads to impose an embargo on their shipments in early October. After a three-day embargo that began October 7, the railroad operations returned to normal, but with heightened security, according to information from the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

The embargo began after the United States began bombing Afghanistan October 7. The embargo was designed to be a security measure to protect against terrorist retaliation. It was initiated by the rail industry and not at the request of the federal government.

Although the embargo was canceled, the railroads continue to maintain the high-security mode in the event further action is needed, according to AAR. The heightened security measures include daily contact with national security agencies to determine appropriate anti-terrorist response, and to make adjustments in that response as dictated by the nation's security and military requirements. In addition, the security measures include railroad police forces employing heightened patrols, inspections, and surveillance as deemed appropriate for the security of shipments and facilities. Certain trains will have operations modified commensurate with security requirements, and AAR will continue to operate a 24-hour command center linked to federal national security personnel and the railroads' 24-hour operations centers. The industry will continue to restrict access to its information systems, and the railroad industry's 200,000 employees will maintain high awareness and vigilance.

After the railroad embargo was announced, many companies in the chemical industry began gearing up for transportation challenges. Some industry spokesmen predicted serious economic problems not only for the chemical industry, but for the United States economy as a whole, if the interruption did not end within 72 hours.

“If this lasts 72 hours, we can live with it,” Tom King, Ashland Chemical Company vice-president for purchasing logistics, said during the embargo. “If it goes on for an extended period, it is going to shut down the economy.”

At DuPont, Joe Resendes, North America Logistics Operations manager, said there had been a flurry of activity within the company to meet the situation. DuPont emphasizes strict inventory management, which does not allow for lengthy shipment interruption.

“When you have a disruption like this, it can be critical,” he said.

According to Resendes, there were some inconsistencies in how the various railroads handled the situation. Some of the railcars that already were in transit were delivered to their destinations while others were pulled off the main line and placed in a secured location.

There was concern that the rail ban could be expanded because of the threat of terrorism within the United States and the continued US military assaults on Afghanistan.

“The whole industry is very nervous,” said Dennis Ashworth, Chevron Phillips Chemical Company hazmat transportation center manager. He agreed that a 72-hour interruption could be handled without undue hardship.

Leslie Hatfield, a spokesman for Dow Chemical Company, said the impact on the company was viewed as a supply chain interruption. However, she noted that the company's crisis management team was planning operations without giving any time frame for an end to the embargo.

The ban was initially revisited on a daily basis, said Peggy Wilhide, vice-president of communications at the Association of American Railroads (AAR). The AAR was consulting with the National Security Council and the Department of Transportation on the situation.

Because of the security involved, Wilhide would not list the products that were being restricted, but typical hazmat PIH materials include chlorine and hydrogen fluoride. The list can be found in the AAR's Bureau of Explosives Tariff #6000-U, section 172.101 Domestic Table Hazard Class 2.3 and 6.1, Zone A, B, C, or D for poison by inhalation or poison gas only, according to information from the National Industrial Transportation League.

Specific tanks used to transport the products include ton tanks (for chlorine), DOT51 tank containers, and MC330/331 and MC338 tank trailers.

The logistics situation is reminiscent of a rail meltdown that occurred from 1997-2000 in the Gulf Coast area, following the merger of the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads. At that time, tank truck carriers were called on to fill the gap. After the hazmat ban, tank truck carriers were again receiving a flood of queries from shippers looking for alternatives to rail.

“If we have any products that can be trucked (rather than via rail), we are looking at that possibility,” Resendes said at the time.

A chemical distributor with a truck fleet said his company purchased quantities of a PIH product and placed it in storage soon after the attacks on New York City and Washington DC occurred, anticipating security measures would be applied.