5 time and cost-saving solutions for remediating contaminated rail sites

Authors: Eric Hoglund, Daniel Bouchard, Derek Hubbartt
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At a glance

Railway contamination can stem from derailments or ongoing rail operations. They may be from active spills such as chemicals leaked from a derailed tank car or caused by undetected leaks from a legacy spill decades ago that is undergoing ongoing monitoring and remediation to restore the site. Regardless of the cause or the stage of the remediation process, the goal is always the same: mitigating risks to human well-being and the environment while securing approval for closure or no further action from regulatory agencies. This can sometimes take a very long time. Thankfully, solutions exist that have the potential to shorten the remediation period resulting in valuable time and cost savings.  

Solutions that have the potential to shorten the remediation period resulting in time and cost savings.

Five time-saving solutions for railroad site remediation:

1. Establish an emergency management plan and conduct emergency drills 

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The faster you can respond to an emergency, the more likely you can minimize the spill and reduce the impacts. Having an emergency preparedness and response program helps determine procedures to plan for emergency events, prepare for how to respond, and recover and restore operations in the event of a spill. Emergency management plans also help identify potential hazards and risks to prevent emergencies. Emergency response planning for railroads can include staging a derailment, rehearsing the response and scoring one’s own organization to determine what can be improved.

2. Align capital improvement plans with remediation plans 

Planning for capital improvements can be done in parallel with remediation activities. Railroad facilities often need to replace old infrastructure or improve infrastructure such as stormwater conveyance and treatment systems. Having an established soil management program in place to address potential contamination prior to construction will minimize delays and added costs. This can sometimes result in altering the proposed construction plans to minimize remediation costs. At a minimum, knowing the extent of potential contamination and having a plan in place to address it prior to construction can only improve project planning and execution. 

3. Use digital tools to communicate remediation plans to regulators and stakeholders 

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Digital solutions can be leveraged to depict the location of the site contamination and facilitate better communication to regulators and the public. 3D visualization incorporates geologic modelling, groundwater and soil contamination, and geostatistical analysis. It prioritizes remediation programs and streamlines site decision-making efforts. The faster community stakeholders understand the project, the sooner you can gain acceptance and proceed with the remediation process to closure. 

4. Apply new diagnostic tools to understand if compounds are being degraded 

Compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA) is an emerging assessment tool that uses stable isotopes to determine whether degradation is occurring for compounds of concern (COC). The tool is applied to chlorinated solvents and a selection of compounds found in gasoline (such as BTEX and fuel oxygenates). It distinguishes different sources of the same chemicals and links the source of a compound that may have migrated offsite with groundwater. It also helps support natural attenuation for long-term monitoring programs by demonstrating if the COC is being degraded and not just diluted in the subsurface. Compound-specific isotope assessments are used during in situ remediation treatment. They evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment and offer data for optimization or shortened treatment, which may expedite site closure. 

5. Review monitoring program scopes for long-term cost optimization

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There are ways to decrease the scope of work for remediation projects, thereby saving time. Conducting an annual review of the remedy scope for ongoing projects helps identify opportunities for cost-efficiency, effectiveness, and reducing long-term monitoring expenses. During this review, assess opportunities to reduce the number of data points either by decreasing the quantity or the sampling frequency. Taking proactive measures can expedite project closure and lower long-term monitoring and operational expenses. 

Planning and prevention is key

You may find yourself in an unavoidable situation that needs immediate remediating. And while rapid response is an immediate response to any incident, planning ahead and working towards prevention of potential situations can positively impact you. Our team has the tools to educate and focus on preventing incidents in all industries, including the railroad industry. We offer emergency management and response solutions through our dedicated staff known as GHD FIRST (Fast Incident Response Services Team). Our team of Emergency Responders assist companies through the full life cycle of an emergency or natural disaster, from initial planning and response to thoughtful sustainable remediation.

In addition to emergency management, our multidisciplinary team combines expertise in areas of contaminated site assessment, environmental remediation, construction, permitting and digital solutions which offer a holistic approach to remediation and redevelopment initiatives.

Contact us to learn more about how we can assist with preventing, responding to, and remediating contaminated railroad sites.