Ammonium sulfate railcar loading facility

ErectaStep access stair installation at an ammonium sulfate railcar loading facility

Ammonium sulfate railcar loading facility

Efficient collaborations keep ammonium sulfate project on schedule

When corrosive materials such as ammonium sulfate are being manufactured, stored, or loaded in railcars for transport, special care must be taken to ensure the entire facility is prepared for the inevitable wear and tear and provides safe access for workers and visitors. All building materials used to construct walking/working surfaces such as platforms, crossovers, stairways, and gangways, down to every bolt and resin used on-site, must be durable enough to withstand constant use in a harsh environment.

When we put together the original quote for a company that loads ammonium sulfate, it became clear that the customers’ actual needs extended beyond the gangway and tie-off requested. As a courtesy, the SafeRack team offered to include FRP (Fibre-reinforced plastic) grating throughout the facility which is required in such a corrosive environment. We were able to easily collaborate with a network partner to provide extensive FRP grating to ensure the safety of operators using stairs and conveyor walkways throughout the entire facility. In addition to a number of 400’ grating runs for walkways at conveyor level and stair systems, this project also included a rail gangway at loadout and a cable system for fall protection.

Our partnership with Ultra Fiberglass Systems for all the FRP on this project made it easy to expand the scope of work while keeping the project management end of things easy and timely despite the significant challenges of the pandemic to normal operations and delivery. Thanks to our skilled engineering team and efficient collaborations with the customer, contractor, and end-user, this project has proven to be a great success as the needs of the company continue to expand.

Although no two Ammonium Nitrate Loading solutions will be identical, the product itself determines much of the critical design criteria that will ensure optimum safety and productivity can work together in harmony. 

What is Ammonium Nitrate? Ammonium nitrate is a white crystalline solid comprising ions of ammonium and nitrate.  It is highly soluble in water and typically transported in an aqueous fashion.  Ammonium nitrate is primarily used in the making of fertilizers and explosives.  Other uses include rocket propellants,  pyrotechnics, herbicides, insecticides, and the manufacture of nitrous oxide (laughing gas.)

Ammonium Nitrate is typically shipped in 26,000 gallon DOT-105 insulated tank cars with safety valves. The rails cars themselves are ~ 9′ outside diameter with an overall length of ~45’ to 50′, with a 6’ x 6’ center opening or off-set crash box openings.

In the United States, Ammonium is a “tight-fill” (closed-loop) loading operation and is loaded into rail cars via chemical hoses or 3” stainless steel loading arms. Ammonium Nitrate, if not handled properly can cause serious injuries and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is required. Additionally, robust, well-designed fall prevention is essential to ensure increased throughput without compromising operator safety because operators are on top of the vehicles during the loading process.

Tank truck (un)loading procedures are similar to railcar applications with the trailers meeting established DOT requirements for transporting Ammonium Nitrate or other commodities.  Approved DOT trailers include MC 307 or low pressure chemical ISO containers. Trailers are typically bottom unloaded. An extension pipe with two valves is flanged to the top of the trailer.

All trailers must be equipped with pressure relief valves, and trailers with bottom outlets must be equipped with remote-controlled stop valves.