In The News

May 1, 2015: Press Conference on Rail Car Safety Held Today

The U.S. Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx, and Canada's Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt, held a press conference at 10:30 this morning to discuss the new final rule to improve railroad safety (“the tank car rule”). Secretary Foxx began the conference reminding us all of the Lac-Megantic derailment that took place in 2013 and killed 47 people. As devastating as that accident was, there was one very important lesson the industry learned…there is no such thing as an American fleet or a Canadian fleet…just one fleet that joins us together. Secretary Foxx stated that the goal of this new rule is to improve the transportation of flammable materials, including crude oil and ethanol. Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt, began her portion of the press conference stating that the two interconnected rail networks are important to both communities. The recent accidents and derailments have led to more stringent standards for crude transport.

The United States is extracting more oil than ever before, with 2014 being the highest year on record. Naturally, as the production rate increases so does the growth of railcar loads of crude. Since 2008 the transportation of crude by rail has increase 4000%. Despite the fact that 99.9% of the shipments reached their destination safely and without incident it just is not enough. The industry must strive for perfection.

The new rule, which focuses on high hazard flammable trains, is part of a comprehensive package of interdependent regulations that are designed to improve safety. This package, along with the more than two dozen actions that have already been taken, is the result of a combined effort by several agencies, including Dept. of Energy, Dept. of Homeland Security, FEMA, EPA and Dept. of Commerce. According to Secretary Foxx, by working together they have created a “comprehensive approach to safety that will prevent accidents from happening, will mitigate damage if they do, and support emergency response”.

One element of the rule states that unit trains traveling more than 30 mph must use ECP braking systems as they offer a higher level of safety than current braking systems. Secretary Foxx stated that ECP brakes can be the difference between a contained fire and a catastrophe because they reduce the time it takes for a train to stop in an emergency, prevent cars from slamming into each other during an accident, decrease the number of cars that derail during an accident and decrease the probability of punctures to the rail cars. ECP is considered a reliable technology and broad use application is an important safety factor because gives us the ability to reduce kinetic energy and separate the trains in the event of an accident.

The new regulation focuses on three main elements. The first portion requires thicker steel heads/shields, thermal protection with jackets, protective covers on valves and stronger bottom outlet valves. The second portion deals with both DOT 111 and CPC 1232 tank cars. By April 1, 2020 all crude will be transported in either new or retrofitted tank cars that meet the new standards. In order to get all cars fixed or replaced in a timely fashion, a risk based approach was used to determine which cars were the oldest and least crash resistant. This means that the cars that transport crude oil are handled first as they have been deemed the least safe. Cars handling ethanol are put on a slower schedule since ethanol is considered safer than crude and therefore not as high of a priority. Items that were used during the consideration process were features like steel thickness, head shield protection and whether the cars they are transporting are jacketed or unjacketed, and the type and volume of flammable liquid they are transporting.

By the end of 2017 all non-jacketed DOT 111s will be either retrofitted or no longer in service. The next cars to be retrofitted or replaced are the DOT 111s that are jacketed. Following those are the unjacketed CPC 1232s and finally the jacketed CPC 1232s. Canada is expected to complete their process of replacing or retrofitting their tank cars approximately seven months ahead of the United States since their fleet contains only 30% of the tank cars that are currently being used for transporting hazardous materials. The United States has the remaining 70% which is why it is going to take longer for them to complete the process. Although the railroads don’t support ECP brakes, a dispute will not hold up the enforcement of the rule. Secretary Foxx mentioned that if you look back over the history of rulemaking, when challenged courts tend to focus on the area being challenged rather than the rule as a whole. He believes that the rule will stand up to complaints but only time will tell if that will hold true.

The third portion deals with the railroads and associated companies. Railroads will be required to determine the safest route to transport dangerous goods and adhere to a new maximum speed limit of 40 mph in high threat urban areas. This new speed limit will remain in place until all trains meet the new standards. Railroads are also expected to have a point of contact to share information with communities and follow new standards for testing and sampling hazardous materials prior to transporting them. A new reporting requirement is being implemented in January 2017 to ensure that the retrofitting will be completed by the end of the year. This schedule was put in place to ensure the manufacturers have enough time to make the changes that are required.