NTSB: Flammable Liquid Rail Car Improvements Urgently Needed

"We can't wait a decade for safer rail cars," NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said. "The industry needs to make this issue a priority and expedite the safety enhancements."

The National Transportation Safety Board on April 6 issued four "urgent" recommendations for tougher, more fire-resistant rail cars to be manufactured to safely carry flammable liquids, such as crude oil and ethanol. The recommendations call for an aggressive schedule of replacing or retrofitting the existing rail car fleet with better thermal protection against heat from fires, perhaps through "a ceramic thermal blanket," and increasing the capacity of pressure relief devices.

"We can't wait a decade for safer rail cars," NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said. "Crude oil rail traffic is increasing exponentially, that is why this issue is on our Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements. The industry needs to make this issue a priority and expedite the safety enhancements. Otherwise, we continue to put our communities at risk."

The board has been concerned about DOT-111 tank cars for years, saying they rupture too quickly when exposed to a pool fire caused by a derailment or other accident with leaks and ignition. "And based on a series of accidents the Board has investigated in recent months, performance of the industry’s enhanced rail car, the CPC-1232, is not satisfactory under these conditions," according to its news release.

"The NTSB concludes that the thermal performance and pressure relief capacity of bare steel tank cars that conform to current federal and industry requirements is insufficient to prevent tank failures from pool fire thermal exposure and the resulting overpressurization," said NTSB's letter to Acting Administrator Timothy P. Butters of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The board also recommended fast replacement in the tank car fleet and called for intermediate deadlines and transparent reporting to ensure the tank car fleet is being upgraded as fast as possible.

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