Tank Car Safety Project Turns 50

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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The Railway Supply Institute (RSI) and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) are marking a milestone: 50 years of the Railroad Tank Car Safety Research & Test Project (Safety Project).

RSI’s predecessor (the Railway Progress Institute) and AAR established the Safety Project in 1970 with the aim of conducting “scientific and engineering analyses of railroad tank car accidents to identify and evaluate concepts for improving the damage resistance of tank cars” (download details below).

The associations set up a database of information on tank cars damaged in accidents. The Tank Car Accident Database (TCAD) has been continuously populated since 1970, with assistance from Sims Professional Engineers and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Through analyzing TCAD data, the Safety Project has been able to verify and quantify the benefits of safety improvements,” RSI reported.

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For 50 years, RSI and AAR have invested more than $20 million in the Safety Project, plus hundreds of millions of additional funding in safety improvements to the tank car fleet, according to RSI. The investments have resulted in “significant improvements that are reflected in modifications to existing tank cars, construction of new tank cars with improved designs, and quantitative decision-making tools such as risk analysis and cost-benefit analysis,” according to the associations. Safety Project research has led to now-common tank car safety features, including head shields, shelf-couplers, and thermal protection on tank cars carrying hazardous materials, they noted.

Among the Safety Project accomplishments:

• The conditional probability of release (CPR) estimates from the project’s RA-05-02 and RA-19-01 reports—published in 2006 and 2019, respectively—provide “robust quantitative performance information, which has been used to create improved packaging specifications for tank cars carrying flammable liquids, materials poisonous-by-inhalation (‘PIH’), and other hazardous materials.”

• Safety Project CPR estimates informed the industry’s recommendations and standards for flammable liquid transportation, culminating in the U.S. Department of Transportation promulgation of the DOT-117 tank car specification in 2018.

• The Safety Project developed a database to accumulate the results of stub sill inspections, and funded an industry-wide database of stub sill and tank inspection data to help monitor tank car health. Individual car owners can use the Tank Car Integrated Data Base—managed by AAR subsidiary Railinc—to conduct fleet analysis.

In related developments, RSI on September 23, 2020 released the RSI-100 Product Quality Certification Standard, enabling suppliers to produce tank car components that conform with AAR-approved specifications and applicable federal regulations.

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