US proposes safer hazmat rail tank cars

01 April 2008 02:10  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--US Transportation Secretary Mary Peters on Monday unveiled a proposal to require safer rail tank cars that carry hazardous materials.

“This proposal is designed to significantly reduce the hazard of hauling hazardous materials by rail,” Peters said in a statement.

The proposal includes increasing by 500% on average the performance-based standard of the amount of energy a tank car must absorb during a train accident before a catastrophic failure may occur.

It also requires tank cars carrying commodities such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia to be equipped with puncture-resistance protection strong enough to prevent penetration at speeds of 25 mph (40km/hour) for side impacts and 30 mph for head-on collisions - more than double the speed for existing tank cars.

“The proposal allows flexibility in reaching that goal, but it is expected the outer tank car shell and both head ends will be strengthened, the inner tank holding the hazmat cargo will be better shielded, and the space between the two will be designed with more energy absorption and protection capabilities,” the US Department of Transportation said.

The proposed rule also set a maximum speed limit of 50 mph for any train transporting a poison inhalation hazardous (PIH) tank car.

In addition, a temporary speed restriction of 30 mph is being proposed for all PIH tank cars not meeting the puncture-resistance standard and which are travelling in "dark", or non-signalled territory, until the rule is fully implemented or other safety measures are installed.

Finally, the proposed rule requires that some of the oldest PIH tank cars in use be phased out on an accelerated schedule so they no longer carry PIH materials. The rule addresses the concern that PIH tank cars manufactured prior to 1989 with non-normalised steel may not adequately resist the development of fractures that can lead to a catastrophic failure.

The proposal, to be published on Tuesday, was developed by the department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in consultation with the Federal Railroad Administration.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) said it supports the proposal.

By: Brian Ford
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