According to the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis, there were 7,232 train accidents between the years of 2009 and 2012. Causes of these accidents include derailments, collisions, accidents at railroad grade crossings and obstructions. In most incidents, the damage caused by the accident is minor. But a derailed train can pose serious health or environmental problems when tank cars filled with dangerous substances are ruptured, burn, or the contents spilled.
Recently, a derailed train in Paulsboro, N.J. caused the evacuation of 50 homes and sent more than 40 people to the hospital, complaining of breathing problems. The freight train, with two locomotives, 82 freight cars and a caboose, derailed on an old-style swing bridge that apparently buckled and sent four of the tank cars in a creek below, leaving other cars dangling off the bridge.
One of the cars in the water was carrying ethanol. The three others were carrying vinyl chloride, a flammable liquid. The crash tore open a 1-by-3-foot hole in one of them. At 400 ppm in air, vinyl chloride can cause breathing problems and dizziness. At 12000 ppm those exposed for as little as ten minutes could experience life threatening health effects. The Lower flammable Limit for vinyl chloride is 3800 ppm. Hundreds of responders were needed to clean up the accident site.
In another recent incident, responders in Wayne Township, PA, were notified of a possible hazardous chemical spill from a five car train derailment. One of the cars contained isobutylene, a flammable gas. Isobutylene is easily ignited by heat, sparks or flames capable of forming explosive mixtures with air. Vapors are initially heavier than air and can spread along the ground, possibly causing dizziness or asphyxiation without warning. There was no release or spill from any of the cars, and no injuries reported for the train crew or emergency responders.
Every community needs to have a plan for these types of incidents. Emergency Film Group has developed the Protective Actions: Evacuation/Shelter In Place training program for emergency response personnel: incident commanders, police officers, emergency management personnel, National Guard troops, hazmat teams, firefighters, security personnel, dispatchers, emergency operations center personnel, and others who might be involved in ordering or carrying out protective actions. To learn more, read here. . .