Report: Improved inspections and technology can reduce tank car train derailments

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WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration should “enable and incentivize more frequent and comprehensive inspections of rail routes with regular energy liquids traffic,” according to a Transportation Research Board report on the transport of hazardous liquids and gases.

The report, released on Wednesday, says that the “vast majority” of hazardous liquids have been transported safely by the rail, pipeline, and maritime industries, but the volume of traffic has grown significantly since 2005. But there is an “incomplete understanding of the dynamics of tank-car unit train derailments and a lack of clear guidelines and resources for state and local emergency responders.”

“Questions remain about the technical basis for track inspection standards, which set an allowable failure rate, and whether these allowable rates and repair priorities should be adjusted for routes that continue to be used by tank-car unit trains,” according to the TRB's summary report summary.

The TRB also found there is a lack of training of first responders. There are also differences in the ways officials gather and share accident data among states and communities subject to liquid fuels.

Railroads have been using older, less crashworthy tank cars, that “may continue to be used for flammable liquids traffic for several years,” according to the report. However, in testimony before a congressional committee last week, Association of American Railroads President Ed Hamberger said that through the first two quarters of 2017, only 156 DOT-111 cars remain in flammable liquids service. The weaker DOT-111 cars are being phased out in favor of the sturdier DOT-117 tank cars.

The report says that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration must ensure that preparedness grants meet the needs of communities, and make sure first responders are taking advantage of training opportunities. The FRA should provide incentives for more frequent inspections along routes used for transporting flammables, including the use of sensors and other monitoring technology.

The report says that overall, regulators should encourage carriers “to make greater use of quantitative risk analysis tools … to inform decisions about priorities for maintenance and integrity management of the equipment and infrastructure.”

More information is available online.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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