New US hazardous tank car standards rule approved

13 January 2009 17:48  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--A federal rule to improve the crashworthiness of US hazardous material tank rail cars will take effect on 16 March, a spokesman for the US Department of Transportation said on Tuesday.

The final rule requires poisonous inhalation hazard (PIH) material tank cars to have better puncture resistance from a side impact with a combination of thicker inner shells where the hazardous material is held and/or thicker outer jackets, depending on the specific hazardous material being transported, said Steve Kulm, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration.

PIH materials include chemicals such as chlorine and anyhydrous ammonia.

In addition, each end of the tank car is to be protected with a full head shield where not already mandated by existing regulations and strengthened valves, top fittings and nozzles used to load and unload the tank car are required to prevent a release in a rollover accident.

The new rule also imposes a 50 miles/hour (80km/hour) maximum speed restriction on all loaded PIH tank cars and allows for an increase in the gross weight of the tank car to accommodate the enhanced safety measures.

Also, it requires tank car owners to prioritise the retirement or replacement of older tank cars used in PIH service which were built prior to 1989 with non-normalised steel that may not adequately resist the development of fractures, Kulm said.       

Kulm said the rule is only an interim measure that is meant to stay in effect while the government and the chemicals industry works on more stringent standards that would be finalised in a few years.

Any new tank car built according to the interim standards will be allowed to stay in use for 20 years. The chemical industry had urged the Department of Transportation to “grandfather in” such tank cars so that they would have a useful economic life while tougher standards are put into effect.

The average tank car has a working lifespan of 50 years, Kulm said.

There are about 15,000 PIH tank cars in the US, and roughly 100,000 PIH shipments each year, Kulm said.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Chorine Institute said they were pleased with the new rule.

“Chemical companies own or lease the tank cars in which they ship these critical materials,” said ACC president Cal Dooley. ”The willingness of our members to support new investments in safety is a hallmark of our members’ commitment to continuous safety and performance improvement.” 

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By: Brian Ford
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