In comments filed with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), AAR said the safety upgrades it recommends will substantially decrease the likelihood of a release if a tank car is involved in an accident.
AAR's recommendations to PHMSA come following high-profile incidents involving tank cars during 2013, including in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July 6, when 47 people were killed, and in western Alabama on Nov. 8, where no injuries were reported.
AAR estimates that roughly 92,000 tank cars are currently moving flammable liquids, with approximately 78,000 of those requiring retrofit or phase out based on its proposal. Another 14,000 newer tank cars that today comply with the latest industry safety standards will also require certain retrofit modifications under AAR's proposal. The tank cars affected by the AAR's recommended safety enhancements include those used to transport crude oil and ethanol.
"We believe it's time for a thorough review of the U.S. tank car fleet that moves flammable liquids, particularly considering the recent increase in crude oil traffic," said AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. "Our goal is to ensure that what we move, and how we move it, is done as safely as possible."
The AAR is recommending that PHMSA consider the following when determining what federal safety standard improvements should be required for tank cars moving flammable liquids:
• Increase federal tank car design standards for new cars to include an outer steel jacket around the tank car and thermal protection, full-height head shields and high-flow capacity pressure relief valves;
• Require additional safety upgrades to those tank cars built since October 2011, when the rail industry instituted its latest design standards that today exceed federal requirements, including installation of high-flow-capacity relief valves and design modifications to prevent bottom outlets from opening in the case of an accident;
* Aggressively phase out older-model tank cars used to move flammable liquids that are not retrofitted to meet new federal requirements, and
* Eliminate the current option for rail shippers to classify a flammable liquid with a flash point between 100 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit as a combustible liquid.
"Freight railroads understand the rail supply marketplace is seeing an increased demand for tank cars needed to move more flammable liquids, such as crude and ethanol," Hamberger said. "We believe our suggested approach to improving tank car safety allows railroads to continue to serve their customers, while taking rail tank car safety to the next level. We look forward to working with PHMSA, rail customers and the rail supply community as this rulemaking process moves ahead."