Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Proposed Rail Rule Will Increase Pressure for IST

A Federal Railroad Administration press release yesterday announced a Proposed Rule dealing with Poisonous Inhalation Hazard (PIH) chemicals will require higher construction standards for new tank cars used to transport those chemicals. While it was expected that the new rule would include some provisions for re-routing PIH chemicals around large urban areas, there is nothing in the press release or background information to indicate that those provisions are in the proposed rule. Publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register is expected this week.


PIH Tank Car Construction Standards


The new standards call for PIH cars to be able to prevent penetration from a side impact of 25 mph and a head-on impact of 30 mph. This would protect the contents from being released during train derailments at speeds up to 50 mph. This is twice rated impact speeds of current PIH tank cars. All PIH tank cars would have to meet these standards within eight years of the rule going into effect.


It also calls for an accelerated phase out from PIH service of tank cars constructed before 1989. The “non-normalized steel” construction of those cars “may not adequately resist the development of fractures that can lead to a catastrophic failure.” These cars would have to be removed from service within 5 years of adoption of this rule.


PIH Tank Car Speed Limit


The new rule will also set a 50-mph speed limit for the new PIH cars, formalizing an existing voluntary agreement reached with railroads. Cars not meeting the new standard would have a 30-mph speed limit on cars operating in “dark (non-signaled) territory”. The reduced speed limit would reduce the risk to tank penetration and subsequent PIH leaks during a derailment.


The new speed limit for existing PIH cars will certainly complicate rail shipment schedules. The presence of a single ‘old’ PIH car on a train will require the train to slow to the lower speed limit along significant portions of cross-country tracks. The lower speed limit will increase transit times and the operational costs to the railroad.


Railroads have already been vocal proponents of eliminating the shipment of PIH chemicals where there are “dangerous chemicals that can be replaced by safer substitutes or new technologies currently in the marketplace.” Adding this increased operational difficulty to their already high liability problems associated with PIH will only make them more vociferous proponents of mandatory IST.


NOTE: After writing this blog but before posting it, I found the Federal Register posting of the Proposed Rule, all 160+ pages of it. There will be more information in an upcoming blog.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

PJ:  This mixes up some forthcoming rules:  one on rail safety and two on reil security.  See DRAFT FOE press backgrounder below:

Washington DC   April 1, 2008   DRAFT  -- DRAFT --  DO NOT QUOTE

Friends of the Earth welcomes the proposed federal safety upgrades that US DOT (PHMSA and  FRA) published today in the Federal Register, designed to beef up the safety of rail tank cars used to transport poison gas cargoes (TIH, or Toxic by Inhalation)  such as chlorine and ammonia.
Congress in August of 2005 had directed the Bush Administration to implement railcar safety upgrades, in the SAFETEA-LU legislation, Public Law 109-59.   The regulation proposed by DOT would take effect on a rolling basis, and would replace the entire existing US tank car fleet within about nine years.

As FOE President Brent Blackwelder points out, “The federal railcar safety proposal still fails to mandate the one most common-sense step to reduce the potential horrendous consequences of both accidental and terrorism-caused poison gas railcar releases:  re-routing around major cities.    The Bush Administration’s ideological and determined opposition to re-routing means no target city will be protected any time soon.”

As directed by Congress, the proposed railcar safety rule focuses on serious railcar punctures experienced in accidental releases.  Friends of the Earth consultant Fred Millar noted: “It still, however, leaves all North American railcars in the same category:  not one has been designed (e.g., with armoring as US Humvees are) to reduce the consequences of a serious terrorist attack.  Such a design would have to consider the use of various kinds of IED explosives, under-track mines or Rocket Propelled Grenades.   The text of the proposed rule itself does not pretend to be useful for terrorism prevention.  

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