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Rail News: Safety

Report: Rail industry should do more to safely move crude oil, ethanol


The rail industry needs to repair track defects, upgrade tank-car design and increase training of emergency responders in order to improve safe transportation of crude oil and ethanol, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

In their report, the academies raise concerns about the safety of rail in transporting energy liquids and gases, particularly in relation to track defects, rural communities' emergency response preparedness and the older tank-car designs that will continue to be used in unit trains, the report says.

A committee representing the academies studied the dramatic increase in the long-distance movement of domestically produced crude oil, ethanol and natural gas since 2005. The study began in late 2015, during the national debate about the safety of transporting domestic energy products.

The surge in domestic production resulted in a glut of energy resources that railroads were transporting in parts of the country that lacked sufficient barge and pipeline capacity.

"Railroads, tank cars and tank barges were hauling oil and fuel ethanol in increasingly larger quantities and over longer distances, often on routes passing through communities that had little, if any experience with regular and large quantities of flammable liquids traffic," according to a press release issued by the academies.

Railroads began transporting hazardous liquids in tank cars that had not previously carried those flammable materials in bulk and with shippers that lacked experience transporting them, the report found. In response to derailments, the industry's and regulators' focus was on making tank cars that were crashworthy and resistant to thermal fire.

"The committee determined that incomplete understanding of the dynamics of tank-car unit train derailments and a lack of clear guidelines and resources for state and local emergency responders continues to present safety risks," academy officials said.

It's imperative that derailments are prevented as the new tank cars that meet the new compliance standards are phased in, they added.

The committee also recommended that more work is needed to prepare local emergency responders — particularly volunteer fire departments that serve rural areas — to assist when such derailments occur.

"Clear guidelines are lacking on the kinds of traffic data that railroads should be providing state and local agencies to prepare for energy liquids transportation emergencies," the press release stated. "Further complicating matters, information sharing among emergency planning agencies in some states differ, making it unclear if this information is being transmitted to the first responders."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/13/2017