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Dow and Chemtrec's RFID-Based Rail Safety Project

The initiative will use GPS, radio frequency identification, sensors and satellite communications to electronically monitor the locations and conditions of railcars carrying containers filled with hazardous materials.
By Beth Bacheldor
Apr 06, 2007The Dow Chemical Co. has teamed with the American Chemistry Council's Chemical Transportation Emergency Center (Chemtrec) to demonstrate a real-time tracking system designed to facilitate information sharing between the two organizations.

The demonstration project, called the Dow Chemical Company Railcar Shipment Visibility Initiative, will use global positioning systems (GPS), radio frequency identification and various sensor technologies affixed to railcars carrying containers filled with hazardous materials. The goal, according to Henry Ward, director of transportation safety and security for Dow's global supply chain, will be to electronically monitor each car's location around the clock, as well as the containers' condition and temperature. All the data collected by GPS and the sensors will be shared with Chemtrec via a new Web-based network. This will allow Dow and Chemtrec to provide real-time information to emergency responders in the event of an incident involving Dow shipments. The project, slated to go live within the next few weeks, will run for a year.

Henry Ward
"Safety, security and emergency preparedness are among Dow's and Chemtrec's top priorities, which makes the formalization of this relationship a natural progression of our focused efforts to achieve a common goal," says Ward. "Through this demonstration project, we are demonstrating our commitment to reducing chemical safety and security risks associated with transportation incidents by providing streamlined access to the critical data associated with chemical shipments in the event a transportation incident occurs."

Dow is working with two contractors on the project, which Ward has declined to name. One contractor will affix GPS receivers and sensors to Dow's fleet of toxic inhalation hazard (TIH) material railcars. Under the Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR 171-180), TIH materials are gases or liquids known, or presumed on the basis of tests, to be so toxic to humans as to pose a hazard to health if released during transportation. The sensors will electronically monitor for potential tampering, leaks and temperature changes, and each car's sensors and GPS units will be linked to satellite communications radio.

That contractor will also manage a software interface between the satellite and second contractor's software system. The interface transmits that data to Dow and Chemtrec, where the information can then be accessed on the Web-based network. The software interface acts like middleware, Ward says, collecting and translating the GPS and sensor data so the computer software system receiving that data can understand it.

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