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NTSB's latest 'Most Wanted' list targets tank-car safety, PTC implementation


Tank cars that carry crude oil, ethanol and other hazardous materials across the country must be made safer. That's one of four new issues on the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) "Most Wanted List" of transportation safety improvements for 2015.

The other new issues on the top 10 list released yesterday call for requiring transportation operators to be medically fit for duty, strengthening commercial trucking safety and requiring pilots to strengthen procedural compliance.

"The Most Wanted List is our roadmap for 2015. These are safety improvements for which the time is ripe for action," said NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher Hart in a press release. "We want to make new strides in transportation safety in 2015, and we want to lay the groundwork for years that are even safer."

Other items on the list that are rail- or multimodal-related include improving operational safety for all modes of mass transit, addressing distractions on duty, eliminating substance impairment in transportation, requiring medical fitness for duty and implementing positive train control (PTC) in 2015. The end-of-year deadline for PTC implementation was established by Congress in 2008.

"While the NTSB has called for a system like PTC for over 45 years, it still has not been fully implemented in our commuter, intercity and freight trains. Without it, everybody on a train is one human error away from an accident," NTSB officials said in a list summary.

Regarding tank-car safety, the board has identified a number of vulnerabilities in the design of DOT-111 cars with respect to tank heads, shells, and fittings. The vulnerabilities create the risk that hazardous materials could be released during an accident or flammable liquids — such as crude oil and ethanol — could ignite and cause catastrophic damage, NTSB officials said.

"With more than 100,000 DOT-111 cars currently in use according to the Railway Supply Institute, it’s crucial to strengthen existing rail tank cars and new rail tank car regulatory requirements," they said. "[We] recommend enhanced tank head and shell puncture-resistance systems and top fittings protection."

Greenbrier Cos. Inc. officials yesterday voiced support for the NTSB's decision to place tank-car safety on the Most Wanted List.

"As crude moves by rail across America, delivering great benefits to our economy, safety in how crude oil and other flammable commodities are transported must come first," said Greg Saxton, Greenbrier's senior vice president and chief engineer, in a prepared statement. "We expect that the U.S. Department of Transportation will soon issue final regulations that mandate safer tank cars. Prompt implementation of proposed new tank car design and retrofit standards will ensure safer communities and provide rail-car manufacturers … with the regulatory certainty needed to continue investments already underway to deliver more robust tank cars."

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More News from 1/14/2015