Diesel fuel carriage in locomotives, while safe in normal operational conditions, presents a potential hazard in the event of serious accident or derailment. Development of an effective mitigation method against this hazard requires an understanding of operational conditions that lead to fuel spill and fire. This paper describes a study of fire hazard stemming from rail accidents and potential approaches to mitigation. Data for the study was obtained from a large sample of National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation reports for accidents involving both freight and passenger locomotive accidents over a 10-year period. Approximately 25% of the events reviewed resulted in fuel release. In addition, of the events that resulted in fuel loss, a large majority (almost 70%) resulted in fire. Most cases with major fires led to loss of life and/or property, including destruction of multiple locomotives. Typical road locomotives carry 3,000–4,500 gallons of diesel fuel during normal operation. As the locomotive consumes fuel, large volumes are available for vapor generation within the tank. In a post-collision scenario, the vapor that vents to the atmosphere at temperatures close to flash point of the fuel presents a significant fire hazard. Further, flammable mists can be generated by the sprays that develop due to fuel leaks from the post-impact movement of a train. Previous laboratory tests on a scaled tank demonstrated that fire in a fuel-rich vapor can flash back inside the tank causing an explosion or a large fire. This paper also assesses potential technologies to prevent or mitigate fire hazards in locomotive fuel tanks. These include fuel tank leak prevention or reduction of outflow from breached fuel tanks, monitoring vapor concentration within fuel tanks, and limiting vapor concentrations inside tank to maintain levels below the Lower Explosive Limit (LEL). Potential benefits of the latter method include minimization of pollution from escaping vapor as well as partial recovery of reusable fuel from vapor.

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