Train tank cars that haul fuel need retrofitting as soon as possible to avoid possible explosions, according to a recent study conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that examines such accidents. A recent story published by the Associated Press (“Safety board: Train fuel tank cars need retrofits – and fast,” by Matthew Brown) explained how the public is not going to be able to wait the 10 years for improvements as the industry suggested.
Instead, the NTSB is recommending that “after a spate of fiery accidents revealed shortcomings in voluntary industry standards for cars hauling oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids” that these cars need to be replaced or retrofitted with better protective systems that can withstand fire. The NTSB pointed to oil trains that derailed in West Virginia in February and outside Galena, Illinois, in March. One of the recommendations included ceramic blankets that already are being used to transport liquefied petroleum gas in tank cars. This type of material surrounds the tank and shields it from intense heat. Relief valves also can prevent pressure building up inside tank cars on fire.
Although the NTSB can only make recommendations, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is the governmental entity that is the rule-making body to require the industry implement new standards. DOT is in the process now of considering new rules to bolster tank car safety. The NTSB recommended that if aggressive changes can’t be made soon enough, then rail speed needs to be restricted. The story also pointed out how these rail cars pass through many populated cities in going across the country including Chicago and Philadelphia.
The AP story reported that the volume of flammable liquids transported by rail has dramatically risen over the past decade and it is projected to number at least 115,000 cars by the end of this year. With that has come an accompanying increase in the number of rail tank car accidents. “Government analysts have predicted trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damages and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.,” Brown reports. Industry experts retort that they already are working on upgrading tank cars and making the industry safer.