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The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) late last month proposed a new rule governing the safety of tank cars carrying hazardous materials — the “most sweeping and revolutionary proposal in decades,” according to the agency.
The rule would require tank cars carrying Poison Inhalation Hazard (PIH) commodities, such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia, to be equipped with puncture-resistance protection that’s strong enough to prevent penetration at speeds up to 25 mph for side impacts and 30 mph for head-on collisions, or more than double existing speed stipulations.
In addition, the proposed rule would set a maximum speed limit of 50 mph for any train transporting a PIH tank car and a temporary speed restriction of 30 mph for all PIH tank cars traveling in dark territory that don’t meet the puncture-resistance standard until a rule is fully implemented or other safety devices are installed. The FRA also would require a tank car’s outer shell and head ends to be strengthened, inner tank to be better shielded, and the space between the two to have more energy absorption and protection capabilities.
Some of the oldest PIH tank cars in use would be phased out on an accelerated schedule because of the rule, which would address concerns that steel PIH tank cars manufactured prior to 1989 do not adequately resist fractures that can lead to a catastrophic failure, FRA officials said in a prepared statement.
The proposed rule — developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in consultation with the FRA — also would increase by 500 percent the amount of energy a tank car must absorb during a train accident before a failure occurs, the FRA said.
To increase public awareness about train accident causes and reduce the number of Freedom of Information Act requests submitted to the agency, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for the first time is making accident investigation reports available online.
The reports, which date back to all of 2005 and 2006, and first-quarter 2007, contain detailed information and accident analyses. The FRA plans to soon post reports from the remainder of 2007 and portions of 2008.
A major train accident or incident investigation typically takes six to nine months to complete, the FRA said.