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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
This network will supplement Chemtrec's current communications network, consolidating all the various GPS location and sensor data Chemtrec and Dow can access via a Web-based software portal. Ward says the software portal will provide mapping capabilities and can also be programmed to automatically send alerts, via cell phones or e-mail, if shipment irregularities are detected. The portal can also be programmed to trigger alerts if a shipment does not reach its destination within a designated time.

RFID tags already installed on the railcars will be used as part of the project, says Ward, allowing Chemtrec to identify each railcar. Like other rail shippers, Dow has been using passive 915 MHz or 2.45 GHz Automatic Equipment Identification (AEI) RFID tags on its rail fleets since the 1990s, to comply with the American Association of Railroads' requirements for car-location tracking.

For now, only Dow and Chemtrec will share the information electronically. Ward, however, says the two eventually plan to collaborate with others. "We will be working jointly," he explains, "and have an open dialogue with various agencies and stakeholders to develop the protocols in terms of what information they need and how they might choose to receive it." He adds that the various stakeholders include federal agencies, local or state emergency response organizations, the railroads and shipment consignees.

According to Ward, the project will ultimately help the shipping industry build a more secure framework for the safe and secure transportation of hazardous materials. "This program is exploring opportunities to go above and beyond what is currently being required by government," he says. "Emergency response teams and the communities they serve are the real beneficiaries, as it is expected that this program will help to ensure they have access to the timely and critical information they need."

Once the project is complete, Dow and Chemtrec will review the results of the program and determine whether to extend the relationship for an additional, specified period of time.

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