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The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) is calling on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to act on the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) recent safety recommendation report that calls for trains to have a minimum number of buffer cars when transporting hazardous materials.
Last week, the NTSB issued a report that addressed placement of DOT-111 rail tank cars in high hazard flammable trains and the use of buffer cars for the protection of train crews. The recommendation stemmed from two separate derailments of high-hazard flammable trains — one in Draffin, Kentucky, on Feb. 13 and the other in Fort Worth, Texas, in April 2019 — that resulted in breached tank cars and hazardous material fires.
The NTSB is recommending all trains to have a minimum of five nonplacarded cars between any locomotive or occupied equipment transporting hazardous materials, regardless of train length and consist.
For the past several years, the BLET has urged the FRA to act on the issue of additional buffer cars on unit trains to help project operating crews in the event of a derailment. Current regulations require five buffer cars on a mixed train if the first car contains oil, but only one buffer car is required on unit oil trains that could contain over 100 oil tankers. In derailments, locomotives can be a primary ignition source for spilled oil, BLET officials said in a press release.
BLET National President Dennis Pierce agreed with the NTSB's latest safety recommendation.
"As we have said for years, a chance in the rule would require minor, easily accommodated operational changes and not the need for some expensive technology," said Pierce. "Continuing to allow the railroads to self-regulate puts the lives of train crews at risk and could lead to a wholly unnecessary loss of life."