Keeping Tabs on Hazmat

Keeping Tabs on Hazmat

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

Technology that can help ensure railcar security is gaining importance due to the fear that terrorists might attack, steal or use railcars loaded with hazardous materials.

When shipping hazardous materials by rail, "the bottom line is you have to know where the car has been, who has touched it," said Jim Jundzillo, transportation and terminals manager for Tetra Chemicals, The Woodlands, Texas.

A unit of Tetra Technologies, Tetra Chemicals is a $120 million oil and gas services company that has used software from RMI, an Atlanta-based rail business systems and service provider, for about 10 years to identify bottlenecks and problems with its railcars, establish turn, loss and hold times for the cars and classify its fleet into subfleets, said Jundzillo. "It''s an awful lot of data coming at you every day," he said.

Since Sept. 11, Tetra has received extra value from the software by using it to comply with new federal security regulations. "We have to have a security plan for our facilities and assets and each carrier has to provide us with a security plan on how we will react to incidents, particularly the railroads," Jundzillo explained. "For example, we have to seal our cars. In the past that wasn''t required. We have to have identification on the car and more than likely we will put the number on top so people can see it from the air."

Tetra uses the web-based software at each of its plants to manage shipments of calcium chloride and inbound shipments of hydrochloric acid, said Jundzillo. Tetra''s customers also can access the system and track their shipments. The company can track shipments that cross the Mexican or Canadian border.

With the Justice Department leading a federal crackdown on hazmat shipping (see story, page 25), tracking those railcars is critical. "It is not difficult to postulate a terrorist attacking by hazmat," Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a recent press conference alongside Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and other federal transport officials.

Shippers that slip up could face very stiff penalties. CNF Inc. was hit with $6.5 million in penalties last month after pleading guilty to improperly documenting hazmat shipments at Emery Worldwide Airlines in 1998 and 1999. CNF is not alone. The Department of Transportation''s inspector has more than 60 ongoing hazmat criminal investigations and has gotten at least 20 convictions in each of last three years.

RMI''s RailConnect transportation management software helps shippers and railroads track railcars and shipments. The system is comprised of several modules, including a program that helps manufacturers manage the shipment of bulk commodities across several transportation modes. Over 220 railroads and 200 shippers use RailConnect applications, including more than 75 percent of shortline and regional railroads in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Tetra leases "a couple hundred railcars that generate several thousand moves" that it monitors and analyzes through RMI, said Jundzillo. If Jundzillo did not use the software he would need to have a person "spending most of the day calling the railroads and getting data on where the railcars are today. It would take another person to capture movements and generate reports," he said. The plants also would need people to schedule railcars. "The system allows me to bypass that," he said.

The ratio of the number of people needed to track railcars without software to those needed to track railcars with software is 10 to one, Jundzillo said. "In the old days companies hired four or five people to do this. Now we have half a person tracking our fleet," said Jundzillo.

The software also helps Tetra manage the size of its fleet. Leasing extra railcars can cost between $400 and $1,000 per month, he said. "Our fleet is 50 cars below what we would probably have to have if we didn''t have this system," he said. He estimates companies can reduce their fleet sizes by at least 10 or 15 percent with RMI''s software.

Which shippers need this tool? Those that have over 10 railcars and particularly those that are shipping hazardous materials, said Jundzillo. "When you get up to 10, 15, 20 railcars, you need some tool."