Rail is safe

To the Valley News:

Contrary to your editorial, “Race against the rails,” May 7, DOT-111 tank cars have not been outlawed by the Canadian government and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) does believe that enhanced cars built to a higher standard are appropriate for carrying crude oil and ethanol.

It is well understood throughout the industry and in the government that rail tank cars have achieved a strong safety record, with 99.997 percent of carloads delivered without accident-related leakage. Despite a sharp increase in the number of carloads per year, there has not been an increase in the accident rate. Much of this safety record was achieved with DOT-111 tank cars which make up the majority of the tank car fleet, and can continue to serve a valuable purpose.

At the same time, both industry and government have long been concerned about improving the performance of tank cars. Since 2011, car manufacturers, owners and lessors have taken voluntary action, along with the Association of American Railroads, to put more than 57,000 enhanced cars into service by 2011, investing more than $7 billion to do so. Some of these enhancements include steel jackets surrounding the tank, ¾” steel head shields to protect each end from puncture, thermal protection systems and enhanced design of both top and bottom fittings. These are the same types of improvements that NTSB has recommended.

It’s true, the Department of Transportation (DOT) needs to set a standard for the design of newly built tank cars, and take steps that will accelerate the retrofit of existing cars in the fleet. But, more than that DOT needs to take a holistic approach to require action on railroad operations, appropriate classifications of materials, and emergency response procedures and training.

The call for an outright ban on a certain design standard, however, reflects a gross misunderstanding of the manufacture, design and usage of rail tank cars.

Tom Simpson, President

Railway Supply Institute

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