Image: ProRail

Dutch government wants GPS on hazardous goods trains

A failure of proper registration procedures means freight wagons carrying dangerous goods in The Netherlands should be fitted with GPS trackers to ensure their location is always known, the Dutch Transport Secretary has said.

Sharon Dijkstra says too many rail yards are unaware of the cargoes aboard stationary freight trains, and both operators and the emergency services must be able to locate them quickly in the event of an emergency.

GPS trackers are necessary because too many yards are not complying with the mandatory registration of hazardous substances aboard trains while stationary in locations such as freight interchanges and sidings, she says.

Dangerous substances

The recommendations come after a meeting between Secretary Dijksma and representatives of the rail freight sector in Dordrecht, and follows a similar call by her last year for a total compulsory registration system for hazardous materials on trains. The carriage of dangerous substances in The Netherlands is subject to strict national and international safety rules, but in an inspection the Dutch Environment and Transport Inspectorate found that only 75 per cent of stationary wagons carrying such materials were correctly registered last year.

While this is an improvement on the 60 per cent recorded in 2015, Secretary Dijksma is adamant that much faster action is needed: “It is in the interests of everyone living and working in and around rail yards that, in the event of an emergency, the emergency services can always see what is located where,” she said.

Human error

Much of the shortfall in the registration figures is down to a lack of organisation when wagons are being disconnected, moved and reconnected in the yards. The proposal to install GPS tracking equipment would enable operators, with the touch of a button, to know the precise location of wagons, and therefore lessen the potential for human error.

Dutch national railway infrastructure manager ProRail says carriers who repeatedly offend and do not take steps to contribute to improvements in procedures could be denied access to the rail network. The ILT inspects intensively on compliance of registration requirements, and there is the possibility that fines could also be imposed.

Small spillages

ProRail recently launched a new system for sending out alerts when there are small spillages of hazardous substances. The system is able to inform the emergency services about the nature of the spillage, so they can respond accordingly.

Last year there were 60 incidents involving spillages on the track, the majority of which (54) were at the Port of Rotterdam and Kijfhoek freight yard near Rotterdam. Of these, 50 involved only very small fluid spillages from freight wagons.

Code red

A ‘code red’ alert for these incidents meant firefighters in protective clothing were obliged to attend on each occasion because the nature of the spill was unknown. But on many occasions it was later deemed to have been unnecessary, as ProRail’s own staff were trained to deal with small leaks. Under the new system, which is being tested at the Port of Rotterdam, a ‘code green’ status over a spillage will enable wider operations to continue, rather than the whole area having to be shut down, as happened in the past.

In March 2015 a passenger train ran into the back of a stationary freight train near Tilburg. As a result of the collision, there was a leak from the rear-most wagon which was carrying around 50 tonnes of flammable gas. There were no serious injuries and the scale of the leak was limited, but since then the Dutch authorities have been keen to learn any safety lessons arising from the incident.

Author: Simon Weedy

Simon is a journalist for - a dedicated online platform for all the news about the rail freight sector

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