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Rail Yards


This Industry Profile Fact Sheet is presented by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) to assist state, local, and municipal agencies, and private groups in the initial planning and evaluation of sites being considered for remediation, redevelopment or reuse. It is intended to provide a general description of site conditions and contaminants which may be encountered at specific industrial facilities. This fact sheet is presented for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as a federal policy or directive.


Rail yard facilities are highly specialized facilities consisting of one or more areas including engine maintenance buildings, fueling areas, track and switching areas, and track maintenance/material storage yards. The engine maintenance building was used to perform a wide variety of work on train engines.


The raw materials associated with this industry are primarily used in fueling and maintenance operations. Numerous solvents, paints, coatings, PCB oils, creosote compounds, and degreasers were commonly used and stored in maintenance and storage areas.


Typical contamination includes degreasing solvents, PCBs from engines and electrical equipment, and some heavy metals. Since most newer train engines use diesel fuel, diesel range organics (DRO) may be a common contaminant of the surface and subsurface soils and shallow groundwater in engine fueling areas. Track and switching areas may have DRO and oil-contaminated surface soils and rail ballast due to the constant use and repetitive minor leakage of engines and rail cars. The maintenance/material storage yard areas used a wide variety of solvents, paints, treated railroad ties and wastes. Historical leakage due to poor housekeeping and spills of oils, hazardous materials, paints, solvents, and creosote from railroad ties, account for the majority of the contamination incurred. Due to the volume and concentration of the hazardous materials shipped via rail, special attention should be given to areas where historical tank car releases of hazardous materials have occurred.

Common waste products encountered at Superfund assessment and remediation projects include PCB-contaminated soils and run-off from electrical generation areas and maintenance shops, DRO-contaminated soils and groundwater from fueling operations and leaking above- and below-ground storage tanks, solvent-contaminated soils and groundwater from maintenance and painting operations, and miscellaneous heavy metals contamination associated with many industrial operations.

Additionally, contaminated buildings and the associated demolition debris may be encountered at abandoned or inactive sites. Decontamination and wipe testing of this material may be required prior to off-site landfill disposal.


It should be noted that site contaminants may contain solvents, PCBs and fuels which may represent a direct contact and/or inhalation hazard to assessment personnel. Visually identified spill or stained areas may be screened with a variety of soil screening kits for PCBs, chlorinated compounds, BTEX or other compounds. Rail yards may have numerous and highly varied sources and extents of contamination. A historical information search should be conducted to determine areas of historical use, storage or spills of hazardous materials and oil.

Once potential source areas area identified, surface and subsurface soil sampling should be performed to confirm contamination and determine the extent of contamination. Augering or drilling may be difficult due to the hazards associated with an operational rail yard or maintenance area. The applicability of non-intrusive subsurface geophysics may be limited due to the presence of large metal objects and high voltage electrical equipment and transmission lines.

On-site and local wells may be sampled if groundwater is an environmental concern. Installation of monitoring wells or other groundwater sampling techniques should be evaluated if it is necessary to fill data gaps.


DRO Analysis (suspected fuel releases)

Heavy Metals Analysis:

Priority Pollutant Organics Analysis (volatiles, semivolatiles, pesticides/PCBs)

Region 3 | Mid-Atlantic Cleanup | Mid-Atlantic Brownfields & Land Revitalization

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