Coal Shipment Safety: Third Major Mid-Atlantic Freight Train Derails
On Thursday morning a train hauling 8,000 tons of coal partially derailed in Bowie, Md., which was less than 24 hours after a train loaded with crude oil derailed in Lynchburg, Va., causing an explosion and a 50,000 gallon spill.
Trains carrying coal crisscross the United States and Canada daily without incident but a recent uptick in derailments over the past two years has had some repercussions for the industry. Last week, the Association of American Railroads and the U.S. Department of Transportation called on railroads to slow their fuel-loaded trains through major cities, increase track improvements, bolster emergency response planning along the routes, according to the Associated Press.
In 2013 alone there were 19 coal train derailments in the U.S. and Canada – from Hew Hampshire to Louisiana to Alberta. In 2012 there 22 derailments and in 2011 there was 11.
No single commodity is more important to America’s railroads than coal. According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), coal accounted for 41.0 percent of rail tonnage and 21.6 percent of rail gross revenue in 2012. Railroads have typically derived more revenue from coal than from any other commodity. Class I gross revenue from coal was $14.7 billion in 2012, down from $16.1 billion in 2011, according to AAR.
Most of that coal was consumed at U.S. coal-fueled power plants. Coal has dominated U.S. electricity generation because it is such a cost-effective fuel choice, and freight rail is a big reason for that. More than 70 percent of the coal delivered to coal-fueled power plants is delivered by rail. According to the Energy Information Administration, “much of this coal is transported in unit trains of 120 coal cars going from a single mine to a single power plant over distances that can exceed 1,000 miles.”
And with all this coal being shipped by rail across the continent there is bound to be a lot of coal dust on the tracks, which might play a role in derailments.
When investigators are looking into derailments, coal dust on the tracks is typically something they consider may have been a factor in the incident, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. In addition, the Surface Transportation Board recently recognized that coal dust poses a serious problem for railroad safety and operations. The Board has acknowledged the safety and maintenance issues brought on by coal dust fouling track ballast.
According to the AAR, the industry has adequate safety measures in place for trains and railroads that transport hazardous materials. Railroads use a sophisticated statistical routing tool designed to determine rail routes that pose the least overall safety and security risk for the transportation of certain hazardous materials. This tool, developed in partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, uses 27 risk factors — including hazmat volume, trip length, population density along the route, and emergency response capability — to assess the safety and security of rail routes.
In addition, according to AAR, railroads work closely with state and local leaders and emergency responders across their network to ensure that communities understand how railroads operate and are prepared in the event of an accident.
Coal India Secures First-Of-Its-Kind Digital Deal
Coal India Limited (CIL) has appointed Accenture Solutions to digitally transform seven of its open-cast mines as the company strives to improve performance and increase coal production. Accenture is due to lay down digitalisation groundwork until March 2022.
The deal aims to increase coal production by 100 million tonnes (MT) by the end of FY’23. Once the minimum quantity has been surpassed, an agreed sum will be paid to the consultant for every additional sum of coal produced. This success fee will only be paid on the procurement of the minimum assured quantity.
The move will see heavy earth moving machinery (HEMM) fitted with digital sensors to monitor performance efficiency at all levels. Additionally, modern data analytic techniques aim to increase mine productivity and project monitoring through functional system management and effective observation.
An Exciting Venture For Global Mining
CIL, which aims to provide energy security in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner, hopes the move will help transform the entire business of mining operations and ensure higher volumes of coal are acquired at a lower cost.
“This is a first of its kind initiative by the company utilising digitalisation to ramp up coal output,” CIL has said.
A Digital Step Towards Enhanced Performance
Digitalisation is expected to take place at open-cast mines in Kusmunda, Gevra, Dipka of Southern Eastern Coalfields (SECL), Migahi, Jayant, Dudhichua, and Khadia of Northern Coalfields (NCL). Nearly 32% (188 MT) of CIL’s 596 MT output in FY’21 was accounted for by the seven selected mines. However, this new deal is set to see a large increase following the subsequent digital changes due to be made.
“Learning from the outcome and success of this model, we may replicate it in our other large mines,” says CIL, optimistic about the future following the modernisation of their mining.
It is expected that the move will help address roadblocks and guarantee corrective measures are put into place, ensuring the company is able to move forward with its aim of increasing output whilst remaining sustainable and eco-friendly.