Monday, June 2, 2008

Comments on Rail Security and Safety Rules – 5-30-08

There are currently three rules recently published in the Federal Register dealing with the security and safety of rail transportation of various hazardous chemicals. All three rules are in the comment period. Generally speaking the comments made on each of these rules are posted on the web site. The last review was posted on 5-28-08 (see: "Comments on Rail Security and Safety Rules – 5-23-08").

PIH Tank Car Rule

Comments are to be submitted by June 16, 2008. Comments were received from:

FRA Administrator Joseph Boardman

  • The American Association of Railroads (AAR) adopted a new interchange standard for railcars to haul TIH chemicals since this rule was published. The requirements of the rule are more stringent than those of the adopted standard. Administrator Boardman published a series of questions to AAR, railcar manufacturers and railcar users. These questions are intended to discern the practical impact the new interchange standard has on implementing this proposed rule.

U.S. DOT/FRA - Response to the National Transportation Safety Board's Recommendations

  • Copies of letters from 2004 and 2006 from the FRA to the NTSB regarding NTSB safety recommendations arising out of two hazmat release railroad accident; the Minot, ND derailment of 2002 and the Graniteville, SC collision of 2006.

American Railcar Industries

  • ARI questions if the front impact standard is achievable. They maintain that the finite element analysis done to support this standard was incomplete. Their analysis shows that a wall thickness of 1.9" would be required to meet the standard. A car constructed with that wall thickness would not be able to transport a significant amount of chlorine.
  • ARI questions the lack of details on the required design approval process. They maintain that the rule should spell out the details of that process.
  • ARI questions the time it will take to develop a useable design that will met the requirements embodied in this rule. They agree that it is likely that it will be two years from the time of an accepted design until a significant number of the new cars will be available for fleets.
  • ARI questions what railroad carriers will do for new cars between now and the time the first new approved cars are produced. Carriers have been holding off purchasing new cars when the formation of this new standard was required by Congress in 2005.

Honorable John R. Carter

  • Congressman Carter (R, TX) notes that the AAR already has a plan for a safer (than current service) PIH tank car available for production; the CPC-1187 standard. He recommends that the current rule be modified to allow the interim construction of the CPC-1187 standard car and exempt those cars from the 8 year phase out of existing cars required in the rule.

Honorable Michael C. Burgess, MD

  • Congressman Burgess (R, TX) forwarded comments from Trinity Industry with his endorsement.
  • Trinity notes that PIH producers want to update their shipping fleet with the safer CPC-1887 design but are being prevented in doing so because of the provisions of this proposed rule.
  • Trinity notes that the older cars in current service may be deteriorating due to their continued use.
  • Trinity believes that the current rule is making the shipment of PIH chemicals more dangerous until the new car design is developed, approved and implemented.

Pan American Railway Company

  • Panam notes that their largest chlorine shipper is planning on a reduction in chlorine shipments over the next 10 years. They note that this rule will require acquiring railcars that will have to be amortized over a longer period than they will be used.
  • Panam notes that the replacement rules will probably result in small shipping companies going out of business. They usually have the older equipment and will be unable to complete with larger shippers in buying the newer equipment.
  • Panam predicts that this rule will result in an increase in truck shipments of anhydrous ammonia.
  • Panam recommends adopting the CPC-1187 standard.

Route Security Analysis Rule

Comments were to be submitted by May 16, 2008. There were no new comments posted since my blog of 5-28-08.

Appeal of Adverse Rail Routing Decisions Rule

Comments are to be submitted by June 16, 2008. No comments have been posted since the proposed rule was published.


Again, more comments on the PIH Tank Car Rule that makes it look like the PHMSA is setting a standard that may not be attainable in the near future. While setting high safety standards might look justifiable to many, it is going to decrease interim safety and security until those standards can be met.

The current fleet of PIH Rail Cars is getting older. Rail Cars are not like fine wine, they do not get better with age. Something needs to be done to improve fleet safety until a new really safe design can be developed.

It appears that the industry has already developed a plan for a safer car on their own, the AAR CPC-1187 standard. There are many people that do not believe that industry in capable of setting safety standards. Here it looks like an industry safety standard in the hand is worth more than a government standard in development, at least as an interim measure.

There is a problem with interim standards. Rail cars have a substantial useful life. They are also quite costly. No one is going to buy a safer rail car knowing that they will be required to retire it before they finish paying for it. The current rule will have to be modified to allow for the production of the CPC-1187 standard rail car. It will either have to allow those cars to be exempt from the phase out rule or the government will have to compensate buyers for the shortened useful life of those cars.

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