Sample Paper on Transportation of Hazardous Materials by Rail or Truck

Transportation of Hazardous Materials by Rail or Truck and The Impact Upon First Responders


It has been asserted that it is an important concern on how hazardous materials can be transported safely in spite of the new dimensions of terrorism, because of safety reasons this aspect has even been given a greater consideration. It is important to note that most of these materials are transported through trucks or rail (National Research Council and National Research Council, 2006). It has also been discovered that apart from safety of materials, trucks moving along the highways have created traffic problems, impacted negatively on the environment and even destroyed the road infrastructure. Logistics experts have established that rail could offer more advantages than truck in respect to movement of hazardous materials. This paper investigates the prevalence of trucks and rail in transportation of hazardous material and the impacts of each in movement of materials. The paper also highlights on the challenges that revolve around moving hazardous goods through rail or truck.

Literature review

Truck and Rail

It has been discovered that the number of trucks transporting materials is on the increase and as such, have impacted on the social, environmental and economic environment. Recent data provided by Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that a normal truck moving goods on the highway produces thrice more nitrogen that a rail engine. It has also been estimated that based on the pollutant measured, a truck would produce more pollutants than railroads.

It has also been proven that on average, railroads are more fuel efficient than trucks as it is supported by the assertion that in1980, the American railroads transported a ton of materials per gallon of fuel in a 250 miles distance. United States railroads moved a ton of freight an average of 235 miles per gallon of fuel and in 2006, a ton was moved per gallon in a distance of 414 miles, a considerable increase (Spellman, 2007).  It is therefore clear that transporting material through rail is more favorable than using trucks.

The study has found out that moving materials through railroads reduces traffic congestion as it is believed that a single train engine can pull around 280 trucks at a time. This means that moving goods through rail is more cost effective as statistics indicate that it costs less to move a tone-mile of materials through rail. This is the reason why most people acknowledge that it is cost effective to move materials and commodities through rail taking into consideration the increase in fuel prices.

The study has established that it is safer to transport hazardous material through rail as it is on record that the number of fatalities involved in cases of accident is very low. In U.S for instance train accident has reduced by around 65 percent and the rate of employee casualties has dropped by 80percent between 1980 and 2007.





A graph showing improvements in rail safety measures

It has been established that continued over-reliance on trucks is not wise, this is in respect to total highway vehicles that moved per mile, it has been floated that it rose to 90 percent in U.S between 1980 and 2003. The overcrowding of trucks has damaged highways making the tax payers to dig deep into their pockets for repair and constructions of new road hence stifling the economy. This points to the fact that using railroads to transport hazardous materials reduces traffics on highways, improves mobility and reduce the pressure to build new roads.

Findings and discussions

It has been ascertained that railroads are significant to the national defense, public health and the economy as they provide lines for movement of defense materials. They are also involved in the transportation of chemicals that are essential for the public health and coal used in electric installations. For instance, in U.S rail transports a 22 percent of chlorine that is used to purify the nation’s water. However, the movement of hazardous materials has posed a great challenge due to their rifeness; this is due to the fact that they are dangerous materials, explosive gases, flammable matter, poisonous substances, and toxic materials that can cause fire outbreak. Numbers indicate that in 2001 alone around 155 million tons of chemicals were transported by rail in North of America. This supports the fact that transportation of hazardous material has been by rail indicating a tremendous increase in the instances of transportation (Schnepp et al, 2009).

The study has discovered that there is need for the implementation of uniform standards to ensure transportation of hazardous material by rail or truck, for instance, federal laws to govern the truck and railroad companies (Bevelacqua, 2006). According to experts the safest method to transport hazardous material is by rail and this is supported statistically. It has been affirmed that 99 percent of hazardous commodities that were transported by rail in U.S reached safely in their destinations without any loss caused by an accident.


From the discussion it is evident that transportation of hazardous materials may have several impacts to the transport companies or to the environment (Cameron, 2005).  The issues that are involved are enormous and require varied responses. First, transporting large quantities of toxic materials is a major challenge as it involves transferring risks to the citizens; safety is therefore compromised because of the increase in exposure. Secondly, rerouting sometimes occurs during transportation of hazardous materials, in such a case it impacts on the budgets of the companies involved in the transport because it involves increase in miles covered which at times may be on infrastructure that are less suitable. This affects the emergency responses on the alternative routes since individuals on those channels may not have the requisite expertise to handle hazardous materials.

Having agreed that rail transport is the safest when transporting hazardous materials there is need to make the industry more competitive, thorough analysis of economic impacts and project justifications, need for information sharing to increase productivity and capacities, compilation of data on material flow and establish conglomerates that stimulate rail end-to-end undertaking optimization.


In transportation of hazardous materials, there is need to assess the risks involved and the benefits that are reaped with transporting hazardous materials by rail or truck. Many experts have alluded to the fact that it is a major concern in transporting hazardous materials given the current state of terrorism. The risks that need to be taken into considerations include terrorists’ attacks, probabilities of releasing hazardous materials to the environment, impacts on population in case of accidents, route length and highway conditions. It is clear from the discussion that rail is the safest method of transportation but the relevant variables of safety and traffic congestion will be important for policy makers in informing their decisions on how well to transport hazardous commodities in the country.



Bevelacqua, A. S. (2006). Hazardous materials chemistry. Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar


Cameron, I. T. (2005). Process systems risk management. San Diego, CA: Elsevier

National Research Council (U.S.), & National Research Council (U.S.). (2006). Going the

distance: The safe transport of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste in the United States. Washington, D.C: National Academies Press.

Schnepp, R., International Association of Fire Chiefs., & National Fire Protection Association.

(2009). Hazardous materials: Awareness and operations. Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Spellman, F. R. (2007). Transportation of hazardous materials post-9/11. Lanham, Md:

Government Institutes.