Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Quebec Rail Accident Focuses Attention on Tanker Car Safety

Francois Laplante-Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images
Firefighters douse blazes after a freight train loaded with oil derailed in Lac-Mégantic in Canada’s Quebec province on July 6, sparking explosions that engulfed about 30 buildings in fire.

“The revised [Association of American Railroads] standard would address tank cars constructed after the changes are published and would not be expected to require retrofitting of the tank car fleet existing at the time the changes are published,” NTSB Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a 2012 letter to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration chief Cynthia L. Quarterman. “Given the estimated tank care service life of 30 to 40 years, this represents the potential for tank cars with susceptibility to tank failure from loads applied to the draft sill to exist long after changes are made to the design standards.”

In its June regulatory update report, the Transportation Department said the pipeline regulatory agency intended to publish a proposed rule this month with a public comment period running through mid-September. So far, the agency has not submitted a rule to the Office of Management and Budget for review.

A spokesman for the regulatory agency said the current rules describe the type of rail cars permitted to carry materials like crude oil and set requirements for construction and maintenance.

The revised regulations “would further clarify the regulations,” the spokesman said.

The timing of the Lac-Mégantic accident is likely to elevate the issue of tanker car safety as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee write the next rail bill.

With the current authorization set to expire at the end of September, freight railroads were already pressing to delay a congressional mandate for installation of automatic anti-collision systems by 2015. The Quebec accident may complicate the industry’s campaign for a reprieve from the safety mandate.

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