Train Wreck and Chlorine Spill in Graniteville, South Carolina: Transportation Effects and Lessons in Small-Town Capacity for No-Notice Evacuation

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - capacity, planning - safety/accidents, organisation - management, mode - rail


Warning systems, Spills (Pollution), Small towns, Rapid response (Emergencies), Railroad accidents, Lessons learned, Hazardous substances, Hazardous materials spills, Hazardous materials, Hazardous chemicals, Graniteville (South Carolina), Evacuation, Emergency response time, Emergency management, Dangerous goods, Chlorine


The 2005 railroad chlorine spill in Graniteville, South Carolina, killed “only” nine people, but it illustrated the difficulties of achieving adequate capacity to handle no-notice evacuation for hazardous materials incidents. This research uses Graniteville as a case study to highlight needs for building capacity in evacuation capabilities and transportation recovery. Rail operational concepts emerged, such as the need for positive train control and automatic warning technology. The local community faced several challenges, including a lack of public understanding of how to react to a chlorine spill (even though chlorine traversed the town daily), public necessity for basic transportation to work after the evacuation, and a need for documentation of transportation infrastructure to facilitate recovery. Finally, evacuation issues arose, such as how to determine whether to shelter in place or evacuate, what routes would protect or harm people given different hazardous materials and how they behave in a spill, and the role of transportation professionals in working with emergency responders to manage evacuation. Experience and lessons learned from Graniteville can help define a national research agenda for the transportation requirements of no-notice and hazardous-materials evacuation.