Rail Tank Car Manufacturers Urge More Safety Features on New Tank Cars

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By Patrick Ambrosio

Feb. 13 — A trade association representing companies that manufacture and lease rail tank cars said industry safety design standards for rail tank cars used to transport crude oil or ethanol should be updated to require enhanced safety features.

The Railway Supply Institute, in a letter sent to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Feb. 12, said the tank car manufacturing and leasing industry believes newly ordered tank cars should be jacketed and outfitted with thermal protection and a full height head shield.

The letter proposed expanding the CPC-1232 tank car standard, a voluntary industry design standard that was adopted for all cars ordered after Oct. 1, 2011, to require those additional safety features.

RSI President Thomas Simpson, who wrote the letter on behalf of the companies that make up RSI's Committee on Tank Cars, outlined several principles that owners and manufacturers of rail tank cars believe the crude oil and ethanol industries should adopt. Members of the RSI committee include American Railcar Industries, GATX Corp. and the Greenbrier Companies.

Foxx and other Transportation Department officials met with representatives from the freight rail and oil industries in January. Foxx told reporters that during that meeting, both industries agreed to review the CPC-1232 tank car standard.

The safety of DOT-111 rail tank cars, which are commonly used to carry crude oil and other hazardous liquids, has been questioned following a series of derailments, including the July 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that resulted in 47 fatalities. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is working on a rulemaking that would address tank car design standards for DOT-111 rail tank cars.

A Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee was scheduled to hear testimony from officials with PHMSA, the Federal Railroad Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board and the oil and freight rail industries during a Feb. 13 hearing, but that hearing was postponed due to inclement weather.

Freeze on Use of Legacy Cars

The RSI letter included several additional recommended safety initiatives, including a freeze on the number of older rail tank cars in crude oil or ethanol service until the DOT issues standards for modifying older DOT-111 tank cars.

The RSI said the industry should not assign any additional “legacy cars,” which are not compliant with the CPC-1232 industry design standard, to crude oil or ethanol service.

Simpson told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 12 that this would allow older tank cars currently in crude oil or ethanol service to continue to be used, but any legacy cars that needed to be replaced would be replaced with a new tank car or a CPC-1232 compliant car. Additionally, any increase in crude-oil-by-rail shipments would have to be in a compliant or new car, Simpson said.

The RSI letter also recommended that tank cars built to the CPC-1232 standard be allowed to remain in unrestricted service for their full life, with possible modification to pressure relief valves and bottom outlet valve handles based on future federal regulations or industry standards.

The letter also recommended that nonmodified legacy tank cars be allowed to continue carrying hazardous liquids assigned to packing group III. PHMSA assigns hazardous materials to a packing group, which reflects the degree of danger within certain hazard classes. Packing group III flammable liquids pose a lower risk than packing group I and II materials.

Priority on Packing Group I, II Shipments

The RSI urged the DOT to develop modification requirements for legacy tank cars used to carry packing group I and packing group II shipments of flammable liquids, with a priority on modifying cars used to carry crude oil and ethanol.

Simpson also requested that tank car manufacturers and leasing companies be involved in any evaluation of whether some types of crude oil require transport in a tank car class other than the DOT-111 rail tank car.

PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Administration are conducting a joint initiative to determine the proper classification of crude oil from the Bakken shale region of the U.S. That ongoing program, referred to as Operation Classification, led to the Jan. 2 issuance of a safety alert cautioning that Bakken crude oil may be more flammable than other forms of crude oil.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Ambrosio in Washington at pambrosio@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

The Feb. 12 letter to Transportation Secretary Foxx is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=jstn-9ganlr.

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