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FRA, private-sector partners to develop federal design standards for stronger chemical-carrying tank cars


Talk about an eerie coincidence. While Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Union Pacific Railroad, Union Tank Car Co. and Dow Chemical Co. executives held a teleconference yesterday morning to discuss the development of a stronger and safer hazardous material-carrying tank car, a tank car containing liquid propane gas continued to burn in Brooks, Ky., after derailing and exploding along with other CSX Transportation cars.

The explosion — along with a chemical release resulting from a CSXT train accident that occurred Monday in Irvine, Ky. — might not have happened if railroads already were using a “next generation” tank car the public/private partners propose to develop. During the teleconference, the FRA announced it signed a memorandum of cooperation with UP, Union Tank Car and Dow to establish new federal design standards for haz-mat tank cars, especially those carrying Toxic Inhalation Hazard materials, and volatile gases and liquids. The partners began collaborating last year.

The standards would target a tank car’s structural integrity, including the outer shell’s material and thickness, and the type of insulation material used between the outer shell and inner tank, to prevent chemical releases after a side impact. The standards also will address thermal protection, lower profile valves and fittings, head impact limiters, pushback couplers, energy absorbers and anti-climbing devices designed to keep a tank car upright after an accident.

“We’re looking to apply the latest research and advanced technology to provide increased safety for rail shipments posing the greatest safety risk,” said FRA Administrator Joseph Boardman during the conference.

The partners agreed to share information from ongoing FRA and rail industry research programs on haz-mat transportation, and seek best practices from other industries. They also created a project advisory panel comprising representatives from public and private rail safety and haz-mat organizations.

“This alliance demonstrates our mutual recognition that the safe and secure transportation of chemicals and hazardous materials is a shared responsibility between shippers, railroads and governments,” said David Kepler, Dow’s senior vice president of shared services, environment health and safety, and chief information officer.

The FRA plans to release a proposed rulemaking on the design standards in May and issue a final rule in January 2008.

Although a specific timeline hasn’t been established for tank-car builders to meet the new standards, a prototype car might be developed and tested sometime in 2008, and production on the next-generation car might begin in 2009 or 2010, FRA and Union Tank Car officials said.

For more information on today’s and tomorrow’s tank-car market, see page 34 of Progressive Railroading’s January issue.

Jeff Stagl

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/17/2007