US energy groups petition federal regulators over railcar safety proposals
By BETSY MORRIS
Federal safety regulators said they will consider new safety regulations for all rail tank cars, old and new, and gave the public 60 days to comment on several controversial proposals.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said it will consider regulations that tank cars be equipped with better puncture resistance systems and top fittings designed to make them safer in crashes. Tank cars often carry hazardous materials and have been cited as a safety problem in several serious crashes by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Safety regulators are investigating the tank cars used in the oil-train crash that killed 47 people and devastated the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic this summer.
The proposals are part of an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that is the first step in the rulemaking process, PHMSA said. The agency said its proposals reflect input from various stakeholders that use, haul or own rail tank cars. The proposed changes also reflect recommendations from the NTSB and from petitioners, among them the Village of Barrington, Ill., that wants the agency to require safety improvements.
The agency will give the public 60 days to comment on its proposals and other regulations that apply to hazardous material transport.
Most of the recommendations are based on petitions from industries -- asking for safety changes to protect their interests. Taken together, they show how controversial tank-car safety has become despite repeated warnings by the National Transportation Safety Board and very specific recommendations from that agency.
A change that might benefit one industry, for instance, will be costly to another. NTSB recommendations are included in the set of proposals to be considered in the pipeline agency's rulemaking process.
The railroad industry began applying its own safety changes to newly-manufactured tank cars two years ago, but did not ask that older tank cars be retrofitted to comply. Now, the Association of American Railroads is proposing even more stringent safety standards for newly-manufactured DOT-111 tank cars (the most common type) that are going to be used to transport the most hazardous loads. The Village of Barrington petitioned that older tank cars be retrofitted to safety standards as well.
The Compressed Gas Association is asking that regulations be rewritten to "clearly indicate that the liquid portion of the gas must not completely fill the tank." It says the rule permits the transport of carbon dioxide and refrigerated liquid "in an unsafe condition," according to PHMSA's petition.
The American Petroleum Institute, the Chlorine Institute and the American Chemistry Council propose, among other things, delaying certain safety changes for tank cars carrying crude oil or ethanol, pending further research.
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