GATX brings tank car anatomy and safety classes to biofuels producers

By Ryan C. Christiansen | July 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted July 24, 2008 at 11:45 a.m. CST

Representatives from Midwest ethanol and biodiesel producers converged on the Manly Terminal near Manly, Iowa, to participate in a tank car training session sponsored by railcar leasing company GATX Rail.

Four GATX TankTrainer sessions were held July 15-16. The classes were tailored specifically for people in the rapidly expanding biofuels industry, which has contributed significantly to an increase in rail tank car traffic.

The TankTrainer session included classroom instruction inside the GATX SchoolHouse, an air-conditioned boxcar remodeled to look like a 19th-centry, one-room school, as well as hands-on instruction in, on, and around the GATX TankTrainer tank car itself. Some students drove as far as 500 miles to attend the training. Each class accommodated approximately 20 people.

Classroom instruction inside the boxcar included information about the anatomy of tank cars and important safety procedures and regulations. The classroom time was followed by a tour of the archetypical TankTrainer tank car, which includes the many fittings and fitting arrangements found on all types of tank cars.

Based on feedback from ethanol and biodiesel producers, GATX identified that there was a need to bring the TankTrainer classroom to the industry, said Robert Zmudka, vice president and executive director of strategic sales for GATX.

"The industry has grown by leaps and bounds on a very, very fast level," Zmudka said, "and so you're bringing in a lot of new employees, new processes, and new procedures," which include the safe loading and unloading of tank cars.

"It's not like another industry," he said. "For example, corn syrup, where you've had years and years of experience doing it. You have brand-new plants and everything kind of catches up."

Because workers at ethanol plants are often asked to wear many hats, lack of experience with loading and unloading tank cars is an issue.

"You get inexperienced operators and we want to make sure that we're in compliance, that's the biggest thing," said Tim Vogt, environmental safety manager for KAAPA Ethanol LLC, a farmer-owned ethanol plant near Minden, Neb. "We want to be proactive versus reactive," he said, "and to get more information about the rail cars themselves. Are we meeting requirements? Do we need to make changes? It becomes very important." According to a KAAPA press release, the company has received a Product Stewardship Award from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway each of the past three years for having zero non-accidental releases of ethanol from tank cars.

"We want to make sure everyone knows what goes on with the rail cars," said Gary Madsen, maintenance supervisor and lead plant operator for East Fork Biodiesel LLC in Algona, Iowa. "We're going to go back through our procedures to make sure that we're not missing any steps in our training."

GATX has one TankTrainer unit and conducts approximately 15 trainings each year. Most of the classes are held at a customer's location at the request of the customer. The TankTrainer program has been in operation since 1993.

"As part of our strategic plan, we identified that we have a responsibility to provide this service and, while it's not inexpensive to run, the feedback has always been so positive," Zmudka said.