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Hazardous materials shipped on rail through Hall
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You may not see a lot of train tracks, but Hall County plays an important role in the railroad industry.

"Gainesville-Hall County is a part of the main route from (Washington) D.C. to New Orleans," said Michael Stiner, Norfolk Southern Railway Co. hazmat compliance officer.

"A lot of materials come through here - not all of it is destined for the United States. A lot of it is going to other countries like Canada."

With more than 21,000 miles of train track in 22 different states, the company carries many materials with the hazmat - hazardous material - label.

Some of the top freight that the company carries includes things such as chlorine and different types of alcohol.

"A good bit of molten sulfur comes through Gainesville-Hall County on the way to Florida," said Stiner, during Thursday's Hall County Local Emergency Planning Committee meeting.

"It's a raw material for sulfuric acid, which is used in things like car batteries."

During the LEPC meeting, Stiner discussed with the group how his company handles derailments and other emergencies.

With more than 350,000 hazmat shipments made last year, there were only 80 incidents - none of which involved injuries or catastrophic releases of hazardous materials, he said.

Sometimes, train-related emergencies can go outside the scope of normal training for first responders, which is where the company's expertise sometimes comes into play.

"We transport a lot of vehicles through here - sometimes as many as 15 or 16 (on one shipment). We've all seen car fires on the interstate, now multiply that times 100," Stiner said.

"There can be a lot of hazards that first responders don't expect, or haven't been trained to handle. We are there to offer our advice, but the local responders always have the final word."

Because of the nature of their freight, special tools are sometimes required for responding to an emergency, Stiner said.

For instance, if it is necessary to cut into a rail car carrying a flammable material, the company has special spark-less tools to assist local crews.

The company also has staff that come out to assess damage and air monitoring equipment to detect how far the hazmat materials may have spread - which can help determine if it is necessary to evacuate nearby businesses and neighborhoods.


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