About 30 fire and safety personnel from Delaware and Maryland attended a training session at the Delaware Fire School near Dover last week, where they learned what to in the event of a train car leak or railway accident.

With rail freight traffic nearing an all-time high, first responders across the country are training more and more for the possibility of an accident happening somewhere within their jurisdiction.

And because most freight rail traffic moves through rural areas, it’s important that first responders there know how to cope with the hazards and unique dangers that rail accidents can present.

About 30 fire and safety personnel from Delaware and Maryland attended a training session at the Delaware Fire School near Dover last week, where they learned what to do if such an accident were to occur.

Sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security the eight-hour incident response course covered many of the threats posed by train derailments, including such basic principles as recognizing the different types of rail cars.

“To many, those cars all look the same, but there are different types of designs and aspects of construction to them,” said Gary Laing, a spokesman for the Delaware Emergency Management Agency. “All of that affects the kinds of materials they carry.”

Trains often carry toxic chemicals that could endanger a wide area if released. In August 2006, for instance, styrene gas leaking from a railcar at the former Reichhold plant near Cheswold sent more than 20 people to the hospital and resulted in the evacuation of homes within a quarter-mile of the facility.

Just this month, a train carrying pressurized argon gas hit a truck in Louisiana and went off the tracks, resulting in the evacuation about 50 homes in a small town. Two days later, a Canadian train carrying petroleum distillates and hydrochloric acid derailed and caught fire, resulting in a nearby town being evacuated.

In Delaware, there have been 95 railroad incidents since January 2000, including five in Kent County, four of which involved rail cars jumping the tracks, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. While no deaths resulted from those incidents, they did cause nearly $4.6 million in damages.

Dover City Council has raised concerns about possible incidents caused by tank cars that pass through the city, particularly those parked at rail sidings adjacent to the Mayfair and Crossgates neighborhoods.

Laing said those who participated in the Oct. 8 training learned to recognize what chemicals a railcar might be carrying, determine the damage to a railcar and how that could result in a chemical spill, how to contain leaks and spills, and how to find local, state and federal help when a chemical leak occurs.

“This was designed for the first responder,” Laing said. “Those in command need to know how to handle these situations.”