Railroad Association Urges Flammable Tank Car Changes

By The Bakken Staff | December 26, 2013

If the U.S. Department of Transportation answers the Association of American Railroad’s call to retrofit or phase out tank cars used to transport flammable liquids, roughly 78,000 cars would be altered or removed from the nation’s rail fleet. “We believe it’s time for a thorough review of the U.S. tank car fleet that moves flammable liquids, particularly considering the recent increase in crude oil traffic,” said Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of the leading railroad policy, research and technology organization. “Our goal is to ensure that what we move, and how we move it, is done as safely as possible.” 

The rail organization submitted its proposals to the Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration in November. Recommendations by AAR included four main points. First, the AAR wants increased federal tank car standards for all new cars. The standards would require outer steel jackets around the car with thermal protection along with full-height head shields and high-flow capacity pressure relief valves. Next, the AAR wants additional safety upgrades to cars built since 2011. The upgrades would match industry standards put in place since 2011, including the use of modifications to all cars that prevents bottom outlets from opening in the event of an accident. Then, the AAR says all tank cars not retrofitted to meet new standards of hauling flammable liquids should be “aggressively phased out.” Finally, the AAR’s proposal would disallow rail shippers to classify a flammable liquid with a flash point between 100 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit as a combustible liquid. 

In its comments to the PHSA, AAR cited the flammable rail car accident that took place earlier this year in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, as a major reason to revamp flammable railcar safety standards. “The discussion of tank car standards takes place in the context of the accident,” AAR said. 

According to the AAR, 99.998 percent of all rail shipments of hazardous material reach their destination without an accidental release (spill). 

“We believe our suggested approach to improving tank car safety allows railroads to continue to serve their customers, while taking rail tank car safety to the next level,” Hamberger said.