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Norfolk Southern leads rail incident training for Hampton Roads first responders

About a dozen first responders from Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Norfolk are learning how to respond to a railroad incident on Norfolk Southern's HazMat Safety Train.

NORFOLK, Va. — Responding to a rail incident isn’t the same as responding to a regular emergency.

“The equipment is exponentially larger in every sense,” said Lieutenant Marshall Smith with the Chesapeake Fire Department.

It’s important for first responders to understand how it all operates.

“Very rarely do we get an opportunity to have so much hands-on interaction with this type of equipment," Smith continued.

He was one of about a dozen first responders from Chesapeake, Portsmouth, and Norfolk learning how to respond to any railroad incident, including what to do if there’s a hazardous material spill on Norfolk Southern's HazMat Safety Train. T

he training is a part of Norfolk Southern's Operation Awareness and Response program. The program provides classroom, web-based and field training on hazardous materials transportation, as well as information about rail operations. 

“99.9% of all hazardous materials get to destination safely. But in that rare event, we want our communities to be prepared,” said Paul Williams, the hazardous materials regional manager for Norfolk Southern Railroad.

For the last six years, Norfolk Southern has used this safety train as hands-on training for many first responders to learn how to respond to rail-related incidents. It also provides them with a new environment.

“They’re used to doing containers that are not substantial as a rail container," Williams said. "They're also used to being able to control their environment. They can set out road flares and cones and stop traffic.”

First responders learned about each valve and locomotive on the train, so that they're ready for any unlikely event.

“In our area in Chesapeake, we frequently have trains that go through our areas. So, it’s important that we’ll be able to mitigate any potential situation," Smith said.

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