U.S. proposes tougher rules for rail cars
Published: April 1, 2008
Source: Houston Chronicle
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a string of train accidents in recent years, railroad tank cars carrying
hazardous materials must be replaced, rebuilt stronger and travel at
slower speeds over half of the nation's tracks under new federal
The Transportation Department's proposed rule requires tank cars
carrying poison inhalation hazard, or PIH, commodities to be equipped
with puncture-resistance protection to prevent penetration at speeds of
25 mph for side impacts and 30 mph for head-on collisions. Those speeds
are more than double the limits for existing tank cars.
The proposed rule also sets a maximum speed limit of 50 mph for any
train transporting a PIH tank car and a temporary speed restriction of
30 mph for cars not meeting the puncture-resistance standard that travel
in non-signaled territory, or "dark" areas that comprise about half of
the nation's tracks, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Boardman said
during a conference call Monday morning.
Some of the oldest PIH tank cars also will be phased out on an
accelerated schedule over concerns that they do "not adequately resist
the development of fractures that can lead to a catastrophic failure,"
according to the government proposal.
A series of deadly railroad accidents involving hazardous materials _
including the 2002 derailment and chemical spill on the edge of Minot,
N.D., a 2004 derailment near Macdona, Texas, and a January 2005 train
collision and chemical spill in Graniteville, S.C. _ led the FRA to
develop the new rules, which Boardman called a "revolutionary step
forward in tank car safety."
The Federal Railroad Administration expects it will take the industry
eight years to replace the 15,300 tank cars, but half of each owner's
fleet must comply with the enhanced standards within five years.
Boardman said chemical shippers will bear most of the cost for the new
$125,000 cars, a 47 percent increase over the current price tag.
The government estimates the cost to industry will be $350 million
spread over 30 years, while savings from less property damage,
casualties, litigation and other factors will total about $665 million.
The agency did not forecast costs and potential savings during the eight
years industry has to come into compliance, Boardman said.
The Association of American Railroads said it was pleased the government
"is following (our) lead" in developing hazardous materials standards to
make tank cars stronger. The trade group postponed for 30 days the
implementation of its enhanced standards, "to give the industry an
opportunity to study DOT's proposal."
Jack Gerard, president and chief executive of the American Chemistry
Council, countered that the railroad industry's approach to improving
tank-car design was "inferior" to the government proposal, which he
Gerard, whose group represents about 90 percent of the nation's chemical
makers, acknowledged the government rules will require "significant
investment from our members because we own the cars." But he said
setting a performance standard that does not favor a certain
manufacturer allows the market to determine the reasonable cost for new
Boardman said public hearings with the railroads and other stakeholders
will begin in mid-May and that he would like to see the new rule
finalized later this year.
While domestic railroad accidents and deaths fell last year, the number
of incident reports involving hazardous materials jumped to 43 from 28
in 2006, according to government data released earlier this month.