July 8, 2021: The Lighter Side of NARs (Non-Accident Releases)

A long, long, long time ago when I was a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) inspector in Columbus, Ohio, I was working at night in Buckeye Yard. I loved working at night as it was an underserved part of my compliance program, and there was no management around. On a very warm night, I was inspecting cars in the departure yard when an Elevated Temperature, Flammable Liquid car was observed leaking from its bottom outlet. Of course, like any diligent inspector I called the Trainmaster at North Tower and told him that the car was leaking, gave him the car number, asked for the waybill and other pertinent information so I could contact the shipper.

The car department arrived shortly after with a bucket and diapers (absorbent pads) to clean up the mess and with matters well in hand I walked to the tower, climbed the stairs, and there sat Trainmaster Stan…last name withheld. He looked at me, turned back to his desk and said, “The car’s not leaking”. This started an immediate argument with me proclaiming I just inspected the tank car, and the car department could verify what I saw. etc. etc. Stan turned around again and handed me the waybill, saying smugly, “it’s not leaking” “We’re paving that track one drop at a time”. The Elevated Temperature Material was asphalt, and I couldn’t help but laugh. In context, can we truly say that asphalt spread across the highway is any different other than intent?

100 years ago, we counted all leaks that had an HM shipping paper accompanying it. Today, there are many exceptions to reporting found in 49 CFR §171.16(d) (see link) https://tinyurl.com/bt8ztpwz and while it is always preferable to get regulatory relief from an operating agency of the government, do we all miss the opportunity to improve hazardous materials transportation. For railcars, losing 5 gallons of product in a 25,000-gallon railcar is somewhat of a victory in the realm of leaks, until you receive a tariff penalty from the railroad, a bill from the environmental contractor that secured the car and maybe, if the railroad filed the DOT F5800 incident report, an inspection report from the FRA with violation recommended for the leak. Honestly, if the railroad took the regulatory relief and didn’t file the report, it will likely not get to FRA, but do we really want to be out there spending our time explaining or begging the railroad not to file the report?

As I have learned over the years any leak is a failure and is Ivory Soap preventable (99. 44/100ths). Once hazardous material finds an escape route, you are at the mercy of Lady Luck on the amount you lose. I would advocate therefore, that you take advantage of the regulatory relief right before you take a serious look to find that ounce of prevention. Your investigation of any incident should be thorough, all-inclusive, and not stop until the root cause of the leak is found, corrective action is put in place to prevent it and the information is widely disseminated. The root cause is usually found when you can’t answer the question “WHY” anymore.

Finally, if you would like some help in stopping leaks from your railcars or identifying beyond a reasonable doubt, the root cause of any transportation related hazardous materials accident or incident, please don’t hesitate to contact any of the hazardous materials professionals at STARS Consulting. We can help streamline your processes and help you concentrate on packaging your hazardous materials to ensure a leak-free package of each shipment, whether rail, highway, air, or water. Over the past years, we have eliminated non-essential inspections, placing the burden with those truly responsible to ensure their packaging is safe and reliable. Let us help you to streamline your process today and ensure your leak-free package goals are met.

Written By: Joe Connelly
Safety First, No Excuses

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