Process Puzzler: Put Railcar Loading Back on Track

Readers suggest how to stop serious safety snags.

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Frank Sommerfield, senior technical manager
Chester Engineers, Coraopolis, Pa.

Whenever a car is hooked up a derail device should be placed on the track!

John Leonard, service manager
Keystone Propane Service, Throop, Pa.

Mechanical derails with flags and flashing lights at either end of the track would indicate to both plant operators and rail crews whether or not any car track movements would be safe. There is a need for better internal communication between the plant personnel in charge of car movements and the loading operators. Visual indication that loading was in progress should have been provided, e.g., red, loading — no access; green — OK. Lockout devices requiring action from all internal plant sections involved should be provided before proceeding.

Communication between the plant and the rail line coming in for the move should be established as standard.

Robert Drucker, consultant
East Northport, N.Y.

Install load indication and controls (weigh cells) to prevent over-filling. This should be matched with the load as per the car maximum capacity. Information on the cars must be provided to the driver of locomotive at his console so that he can monitor filling.

C. M. PAKHALE, superintendent
Oil India Ltd., Duliajan, India

The lockout/tagout method that railroads use when workers are performing maintenance on a car or engine outside of a shop is a special sign locked to the rail. The lock mechanism normally has some derail capability to keep the worker safe from a bumping incident. This type of lockout would be appropriate for all process-plant railcar operations. Venting the railcar is part of the lockout procedure.

Jim Becker, instrument reliability engineer
Bayer Material Science, Baytown, Texas

You can chock the wheels of any car hooked up to hoses. But the best solution would be to install on the track on both ends of the loading island derailers that are only moved by your operators (not rail services). The derailers are only opened when all six cars are disconnected.

Chris Rentsch, senior improvement engineer
Dow AgroSciences, Midland, Mich.

In this case the emergency shut-off valve that "failed" must not have been a "fail-safe" valve. This term "fail-safe" is overused. A better fail-safe system may be to have a constant "go" signal sent to the controller that keeps the emergency shut-off system "off" if all instrumentation and conditions are "normal." As long as this "go" signal is received by the system, normal operation of valves, etc., is permitted. In the event of any failure within the system, the "go" signal to the controller is interrupted, allowing the emergency shut-off system to activate. This can also prevent the system from operating if an operator bypassed any safety interlocks.

Of course in the case of propylene you will still have an issue with vapor from the railcars. If the vent pipes are broken by moving the railcar down the track there is a risk to the entire plant. A fail-safe emergency shutdown of the loading bay definitely minimizes the risk.

Although this "backward thinking" may cause some unnecessary downtime to the operation when less critical auxiliary instrumentation fails, one must consider what a catastrophe would cost in terms of employee safety, profit loss and the company's image in the community.

James White, production manager
Nan Ya Plastics Corp. Lake City, S.C.

I suggest a line of attack from two directions:

1. Consider an administration option. Institute a formal blue flag program for all rail movements on your site. A blue flag signifies that a rail car is off limits and is not to be moved

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