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The Safety and Security of Hazardous Material Transport

At Norfolk Southern, pursuing safe and secure operations is a crucial part of our success. Through investments in safety-enhancing infrastructure, employee commitment and training, and cutting-edge research and development, railroads like Norfolk Southern are among the nation’s leaders in safety and service techniques. Even with a record of commitment to safety, legislative initiatives exist that could impact our safety culture.

According to the Association of American Railroads and an analysis of the STB Waybill Sample, U.S. railroads transported 1.8 million carloads of hazardous material in 2011, roughly half of which were classified as chemicals. The federal government classifies a subset of hazardous materials as "toxic inhalation hazard (TIH) materials, which are gases or liquids that are hazardous if released into the atmosphere. These materials also require additional handling and monitoring procedures. During this same timeframe, railroads including Norfolk Southern carried some 77,500 carloads of TIH materials, which was roughly 6.0 percent of rail carloads in 2011. Roughly 0.3 percent of all carloads were TIH materials.

Since Norfolk Southern is considered a common carrier, the common carrier obligation directed by the federal government requires railroads to transport hazmat, whether a railroad like Norfolk Southern wants to or not.Trucks and barges don't have this same obligation and may refuse to carry hazmat at their discretion.  

Norfolk Southern will continue to move hazardous materials as safely as possible, but strongly support efforts to replace TIH materials with less hazardous substitutes and new technologies wherever possible. Safer substitutes are already feasible for many TIH materials today.

Included in the discussion of TIH materials is a government mandate known as positive train control. In legislation passed by Congress in 2008, PTC is required to be installed by the end of 2015 on rail lines used to transport passengers or TIH materials. Norfolk Southern and the freight railroads continue to work with the Federal Railroad Administration and leaders in Congress on PTC deadlines while aggressively working toward full compliance of the 2008 statute. 

Norfolk Southern and the nation’s other railroads, including commuter railroads, must install more than $13.2 billion in PTC equipment over the next 20 years, making PTC the most costly federal mandate in history for America’s railroads. For 2014, Norfolk Southern will spend nearly $220 million on PTC planning and preparation. Since PTC will yield just $1 in benefits for every $20 spent on PTC hardware, other critical infrastructure and safety-enhancing investments may be more difficult to afford.

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