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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

NTSB urges quick action on tank-car safety measures


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) late last week issued urgent recommendations calling for more robust and fire-resistant rail cars for carrying crude oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids.

In a letter to U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) Acting Administrator Timothy Butters, the NTSB recommended an aggressive schedule for replacing or retrofitting the existing tank-car fleet with ceramic thermal blankets or other thermal protections against heat from fire, as well as with appropriately sized pressure relief valves.

The board said the current fleet of older model tank cars known as type DOT-111 rupture too quickly when exposed to a pool fire caused by a derailment. And based on NTSB's investigations into recent accidents, the industry's enhanced rail cars known as type CPC-1232 also are not satisfactory under such conditions.

"We can't wait a decade for safer rail cars," said NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart in a press release. "Crude oil rail traffic is increasing exponentially. That is why this issue is on our Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements. The industry needs to make this issue a priority and expedite the safety enhancements, otherwise, we continue to put our communities at risk."

The board recommended an "aggressive, intermediate progress milestone schedule" for replacing or retrofitting the DOT-111 and CPC-1232 tank cars, such as a 20 percent yearly completion metric over five years. Also, the board recommended transparent reporting to make sure the upgrades are completed quickly.

The NTSB recommendations come as the U.S. Department of Transportation and PHMSA consider new rules to bolster tank-car safety in response to recent crude-oil train derailments in the United States and Canada, including the Feb. 16 derailment of a CSX Transportation crude-oil train in Mount Carbon, W. Va.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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