Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

5.10 Difficulties in the Incident/Evacuation

The difficulty was in the identification of the chemicals in the leaking tanker car. In this incident, the fire department “had a time identifying the product.” The rail yard had the manifest of what they thought the car was carrying (sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid); the side of the rail car and the Department of Transportation placard stated sulfuric acid, but it was later determined that someone loaded the cars and misidentified the products. The tanker was supposed to be loaded with two chemicals, when in fact 12 chemicals were loaded into the one car as identified by the Utah State Laboratory.

The fire department initially though they knew what they had and started to pump out the rail car. In the process, they burned through three pumps because metal and poly fittings were being “eaten” by the chemical.

The fire department was in contact with the shipping company and kept getting conflicting reports of the product. The response was based on a worst-case scenario of nitric acid due to the orange vapor coming from the rail car.

Later into the incident, the Department of Health Laboratory identified some of the chemicals. Once the fire department knew they “had ugly stuff,” they had a better idea of how to pump it out. After the incident, the rail yard acquired updated pumps to get the “nasty stuff out” of rail cars.

There were a total of three cars loaded identically. The two other rail cars were identified in Ohio and isolated, but did not leak like the car located in South Salt Lake City.

The City of South Salt Lake requested reimbursement from Union Pacific for the incident, which is being resolved.

Tools mentioned as needed are the continued use of placards on the sides of the rail cars indicating the product in the rail car and regulations on how to properly load rail cars.

February 6, 2006
Publication #FHWA-HOP-08-014