TRANSPORTING HAZARDOUS WASTE VIA THE INTERMODAL RAIL SYSTEM

Since the 1970's, we have been confronted with the problem of pollution by man-made waste. This problem has now become a global one. Due to the progress and development of technology, the amount of waste is increasing every year at an exponential and alarming rate. This is why exporting hazardous waste safely is so crucial.

The intensive and abusive use of resources and the discharge of waste into the environment contribute to the deterioration of our environment. This change has an impact on all of the below:

  • Society
  • Human health
  • The economy
  • Living species
  • Food production
  • Tourism
  • Ecology

Intermodal rail transport refers to the transfer of containers and truck trailers over the rail network. This transportation model reduces costs and also respects the ecosystem. It is thus providing a cost-effective and environmentally friendly service. In addition to this, it can transport almost anything that can be loaded into a truck or container.

Intermodal rail transport refers to the transfer of containers and truck trailers over the rail network. This transportation model reduces costs and also respects the ecosystem. It is thus providing a cost-effective and environmentally friendly service. In addition to this, it can transport almost anything that can be loaded into a truck or container.

Transport Hazmat Through Intermodal Rail

Careless materials disposal results in air, water, and soil pollution. The waste that is thrown out pollutes the air we breathe in many different ways. The air we breathe every day is contaminated because of reckless production practices starting with the industrial revolution. This air pollution causes the death of roughly 2.4 million people a year worldwide. Polluted air reduces human life expectancy and causes:

exporting hazardous waste pollution emissions
  • Heart problems
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Reproductive disorders

Waste is often seen only in terms of disposal, selective sorting, and recycling. In recent years, systems have been put in place to help the environment as people and businesses want to cut down on pollution. The transport of these materials remains an essential part of waste management, as does the way it is treated.

Rail transport has a lot of benefits that are a solution to those ecological issues, including:

  • Transports large quantities of goods over long distances
  • High transport safety
  • Road decongestion
  • Environmentally friendly transporter 

Train Efficiency

Thanks to a largely electrified network, the train is much more fuel-efficient for transit than trucks or planes, especially in terms of pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions. A train pollutes 8 times less than a truck and 3 times less than a plane. Trains contribute 13 times less to global warming than trucks and 18 times less than planes.

The disadvantages of rail transport are balanced by the flexibility of road transport. The combined railroad/railway transit systems transporting network means the successive use of two or more modes of transport for the transportation of products and materials. In most cases, this term refers to a "road-rail" combined transport. Other combinations are also used, typically involving waterways and maritime transport. This is referred to as intermodal transport.

North American freight breakdown by percentages on pie chart

Characteristics of Transport

Each transportation mode has its own characteristics, such as:

  • Carrying capacity
  • Speed
  • Required infrastructure

Depending on these characteristics, the modes each have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes they overlap from one mode to another on a given route. This creates competition or complementarity situations, which is better for businesses who are seeking to dispose of hazardous materials affordably and effectively.

Freight railroads carry nearly 22 million tons of freight per year in the U.S., most of it via intermodal rail. Imports or exports account for about half of rail intermodal volume. This illustrates the fundamental role of intermodal transport in world trade.

The total volume of goods transported per container represents:

  • 47% of intermodal volume in 1990
  • 69% of intermodal volume in 2000
  • 92% of intermodal volume in 2019

Intermodal transport has made strong improvements in productivity. This ensures that the cost of intermodal transport by rail continues to be competitive with truck transport. Containers can also be easily shifted to and from ships and trucks. As a result, it is enhancing the productivity of the logistics chain. Intermodal transport trends have been studied closely by the EPA, which shows its importance.

Hazardous Waste Pollution Materials and Substances

One of the causes of air pollution is the daily use and careless disposal of household products such as:

  • Cleaning products
  • Spent batteries
  • Electronic equipment 
  • Paper
  • Mercury thermometers
  • Others

As for industrial waste, it can come from a variety of sources such as:

  • Cafeteria leftovers
  • Gravel
  • Masonry
  • Concrete
  • Scrap metal
  • Oil
  • Solvents
  • Chemicals
  • Wood
  • Other hazardous industrial residues

The toxic spraying of cleaning products, or even a broken mercury-based thermometer, pollutes the air. This is true both at home or in landfills.

Human waste is also the leading cause of freshwater pollution. As a result, 900,000 people in America suffer from gastric diseases. In poor countries, many people die from diarrhea due to dirty water. At the same time, every year more than 6 million tons of different wastes are dumped into oceans. This causes visual pollution and contamination of the species living in the water. It is therefore very dangerous for human health because we eat the fish that have ingested the pollutants.

Classes

Hazardous materials are subject to one or more specific types of hazards. It has a number known as a United Nations Number.

Hazardous materials categories are as follows:

  • Class 1: Explosive substances and articles
  • Class 2: Gas
  • Class 3: Flammable liquids
  • Class 4.1: Flammable solids, self-reactive substances, desensitized explosive solids, and substances which polymerize
  • Class 4.2: Substances liable to spontaneous ignition
  • Class 4.3: Substances which, in contact with water, emit flammable gases
  • Class 5.1: Oxidizing substances
  • Class 5.2: Organic peroxides
  • Class 6.1: Toxic substances
  • Class 6.2: Infectious substances
  • Class 7: Radioactive Material
  • Class 8: Corrosive substances
  • Class 9: Miscellaneous hazardous materials and objects

Landfills contain a large number of different wastes, including organic waste. The mixture of organic waste and water causes the fermentation of methane. This is a greenhouse gas. The landfill is therefore an indirect cause of air pollution.

There is another way of destroying waste in a much more environmentally friendly way: incineration. In other words, burning waste in a large furnace, using fuel oil or gas. This incineration process uses electrostatic precipitators and bag filters. These help to remove most heavy metals or other pollutants.

The waste is collected by the municipality. Then, it is treated in energy recovery centers and sorting centers. It can also be transferred to specialized centers if it is too large or toxic.

  • Incinerated household waste is transformed into electricity and steam to heat homes
  • Sorted recyclable waste is transformed into new products
International and American Regulations

Hazmat regulations are mainly international and follow a manifest system for the contained hazardous waste. These manifests allow the movement of hazardous waste between countries.

The coherence between these different requirements is ensured by the United Nations. It is necessary for the harmonization of multimodal transport hazmat. It keeps these up to date:

  • A harmonized system of hazard classification criteria and risk communication tools (GHS) 
  • A model regulation which serves as a basis for all the above-mentioned international regulations

International requirements include obligations relating to the prevention of malicious acts. Those are connected to the transport of hazmat. These are general measures applicable to all transporters. There are other, more specific requirements for the transport of goods classified as high risk.

The establishment of the global market requires a better circulation of goods. Yet, transport-related road congestion is a problem faced to varying degrees by all states.

How is Hazardous Waste Transported?

Hazardous waste is now transported by:

  • Road
  • Rail
  • Inland waterway
  • Sea
  • Air

This is known as intermodal transport. The regulation of hazardous waste aims to prevent risks to people, properties, and the environment. It complements other requirements such as those for the protection of the employee or the consumer.

Rail Transportation: a Strategic Step in Reducing Pollution

Transport is now a strategic step in global waste management. It intervenes both upstream and downstream of every waste management operation.

The main stages of transport:

  1. Collection and pre-collection: the collection of waste at its place of production
  2. Transit/transfer: massaging of collected waste, passing through transit docks, grouping to sorting centers
  3. Sorting and pre-treatment: grouping by nature of waste, conditioning of flows, massification, return to conditioning
  4. Treatment/valorization: referral to the final treatment site
  5. Industrial outlets: reintegration of materials from recycling into economic production circuits

Economic support measures for combined transport may include certain fiscal incentives. These are linked to various taxes applicable to road vehicles--especially when participating in combined transport. These measures are designed to correct the imbalance between combined transport and road-only transport. This is due to the existence of negative externalities as these are not fully reflected in the price of road freight transport.

In order to be competitive, rail freight transit services should have a good quality rail infrastructure. This enables rail freight companies to provide freight transport services under good conditions of:

  • Commercial responsiveness
  • Traveling time
  • Reliability

The United States has invested heavily in building a world-class transit intermodal rail network. This transit network ensures the country's competitiveness around the world with:

  • New and expanded intermodal terminals at ports and inland locations are using modern technology to move containers to and from trucks very quickly
  • Additional rail lines with increased capacity and advanced signaling systems enhance the speed and punctuality of intermodal freight trains
  • Bridges and tunnels benefit from the extra height required by double-stack trains
  • New locomotive structures and new intermodal flat cars to meet the increased traffic flow.

Intermodal rail has been profitable thanks to attractive prices and unparalleled efficiency of scale. Indeed, rail freight transport has contributed to a 43% drop in average fares since 1981. This has enabled most shippers to ship more freight at the same price as they could 30 years ago. The rail freight industry is determined to maintain and even strengthen its network. The aim is to become even more efficient and profitable than any other country in the world. In 2019, intermodal transportation generated about 25% of the revenue of major U.S. railroads. This figure is higher than that of any other commodity group. It far exceeds that of coal, which was the major source of rail revenue in the past.

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