US board says oil train tank cars need ur­gent up­grades


Tank cars car­ry­ing oil or ethanol by rail ur­gently need to be retro­fit­ted to make them more fir­ere­sis­tant af­ter a spate of ex­plo­sive ac­ci­dents in re­cent months re­vealed the short­com­ings of in­dus­try-backed safety stan­dards, U.S. of­fi­cials said on Mon­day.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board is­sued a se­ries of rec­om­men­da­tions call­ing for the tank cars to be fit­ted with protective sys­tems bet­ter able to with­stand fire than the bare steel con­struc­tion now widely in use.

Pos­si­ble al­ter­na­tives in­clude ce­ramic “ther­mal blan­kets” that sur­round the tank to shield it from in­tense heat should a nearby car catch fire.

The board also called for bet­ter valves that can pre­vent pres­sure from build­ing in­side tank cars as they heat up from nearby fires. And it said a decade-long retro­fit timeline that’s been sug­gested by the tank car in­dus­try was too long to wait.

“The in­dus­try needs to make this is­sue a pri­or­ity and ex­pe­dite the safety en­hance­ments,” said NTSB Chair­man Christo­pher Hart.

The rec­om­men­da­tions come as the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion con­sid­ers new rules to bol­ster tank car safety in re­sponse to oil and ethanol train crashes that stirred wide­spread worry in the U.S. and Canada, where 47 peo­ple were killed when an oil train crashed in Que­bec two years ago.

If the agency de­cides it would take too long to retro­fit the ex­ist­ing fleet with new protective fea­tures, it should con­sider sig­nif­i­cant speed re­stric­tions on trains as an in­terim mea­sure, the NTSB said in its rec­om­men­da­tions.

The in­dus­try in 2011 vol­un­tar­ily adopted rules re­quir­ing stur­dier tank cars for haul­ing flammable liq­uids such as oil and ethanol. But cars built to the new stan­dard split open in at least four ac­ci­dents dur­ing the past year.

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