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Rail Safety Plan Proposed

Tougher, more resilient hazmat tank cars required

by Glenn Hess
April 7, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 14

Credit: Union Tank Car Co.
Federal government wants stronger tank cars for hazmat cargo.
Credit: Union Tank Car Co.
Federal government wants stronger tank cars for hazmat cargo.

SHIPPERS OF extremely hazardous chemicals, such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia, will have to replace their existing fleet of rail tank cars with a new generation of more impact-resistant cars, according to a newly proposed federal plan to improve freight rail safety.

The rule, proposed on April 1 by the Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), will require tank cars that carry commodities posing poison inhalation hazards be constructed to resist puncture at speeds of 25 mph for side impacts and 30 mph for head-on collisions-more than double the puncture resistance speeds for existing tank cars.

The performance-based standard will increase by 500% on average the amount of energy the tank cars are designed to absorb during an accident without penetration or rupture, according to FRA.

"When the opportunity to make major advances in safety is within our reach, we should not settle for incremental measures," FRA Administrator Joseph H. Boardman says.

Under the proposed rule, half of each shipper's fleet will have to meet the stricter standards within five years and all 15,300 tanks cars currently used to transport highly toxic chemicals will be replaced within eight years. The government estimates it will cost hazmat shippers a total of $350 million to make their tank cars more secure.

The proposed rule also sets a speed limit of 50 mph for any train transporting poisonous materials.

American Chemistry Council President Jack N. Gerard says his group's 134-member companies are willing to invest in upgraded tank cars because "a commitment to safety is good business."

"We are pleased that DOT continues to take a holistic view of rail safety, focusing on both the design of tank cars and the operating conditions under which they travel," Gerard says.

The Association of American Railroads, which represents the freight rail industry, says it hopes the government's action will be "a step forward in our quest to further improve the safety of cars carrying these extremely dangerous materials that railroads are forced to carry under federal law."

After a public comment period on the proposal ends on June 2, FRA will incorporate any revisions it believes are warranted and then issue a final rule later in the year.



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