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Rail News: Safety

Rail leaders, energy product producers and politicians discuss rail safety

Top leaders from major U.S. freight railroads attended a meeting yesterday with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and oil and natural gas producers to discuss ways railroads and shippers can augment the safety of transporting energy products by rail.

Railroads will work with the Administration, their energy sector customers and other stakeholders to identify additional safety enhancing steps, said Association of American Railroads (AAR) officials in a press release.

"The nation's railroads share the Administration's sense of urgency, and will collectively work to identify additional ways to make an already safe system even safer," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger. "We are also pleased that our energy customers are a part of this effort, as railroads and shippers must work together with the DOT to ensure safe operations."

In November 2013, U.S. railroads urged the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to increase the federal tank-car safety standards for cars used to move flammable liquids, such as crude oil and ethanol. On behalf of the rail industry, the AAR asked PHMSA to not only raise the federal standards for new tank cars, but require existing cars to be either retrofitted or phased out of service, association officials said.

In addition, railroads since August 2013 have instituted self-imposed operating practices to help enhance transportation safety for energy products, including special speed limits and other operating requirements, Hamberger said.

Prevention must be part of oil and natural gas producers' focus by helping to avoid rail accidents, said American Petroleum Institute (API) President and CEO Jack Gerard, who attended the Foxx meeting.

Strengthened rail cars are an important part of the equation, but the first step is to address the root causes of rail accidents, he said.

"API has led the way in improving the safety of rail tank cars by building since 2011 next-generation tank cars that exceed federal standards. These new cars already make up nearly 25 percent of the crude oil tank-car fleet and will be 60 percent by 2015," said Gerard. "The oil and natural gas industry will continue to work with regulators and the rail industry to make shipment by rail even safer."

The U.S. Department of Transportation expects to finalize rules governing the construction of tank cars in early 2015. But those rules need to be issued sooner, said U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) in a press release.

"We are concerned that unless the DOT provides guidance sooner, the timeline will be too long for the industry to transition to newer, safer tank cars in a timely way. Industry needs regulatory certainty to make the investments necessary to move forward," he said.

Hoeven and other politicians met with Foxx and industry leaders earlier this week to determine what and when sufficient guidance would be available prior to the finalized rule so the industry could begin a transition.

"Also, I will be speaking with Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell, who reviews the proposed rule prior to its release, to see if it can be provided to the public sooner," said Hoeven.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/17/2014