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Rail cars will need overhaul: Greenbrier

Keywords: Tags  rail cars, Greenbrier, Williiam Furman, safety standards, updating, retrofitting, Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration steel tank cars

LOS ANGELES — About 80,000 tank cars that don’t meet current industry safety standards will need retrofitting or replacing in light of recent rail car accidents, according to the top executive of Greenbrier Cos.

"Crude by rail is here to stay, provided that the public remains confident in the safety of rail transportation," William A. Furman, president and chief executive officer, said.

Furman maintained the issue must be addressed "sooner rather than later" during the rail car builder’s fiscal first-quarter earnings call.

The incidence of tank car derailments and accidents has risen with the surge in shipments of petroleum products. The latest incident on Jan. 7 involved a Canadian National Railway Co. freight train carrying propane and crude oil that derailed near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick (, Jan. 9).

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is considering new regulations that include enhanced tank-end protection, thicker tank car steel for certain car types and top fittings protection, in many cases involving normalized steel. Railroad trade associations have also supported a phase-out of cars that don’t meet retrofit requirements (, Dec. 30).

About 80,000 cars are "in question" for either retrofit or replacement, Furman said, adding that Greenbrier has recommended a retrofit proposal for "modest but meaningful tank car improvements that can be implemented immediately" to reduce major risks, addressing perhaps 80 percent of hazardous material release risk in case of derailment.

"We believe a retrofit proposal, if adopted, can be completed in a reasonably expedited time frame and do not accept that there is not adequate capacity in the industry to do so," he said.

A Greenbrier spokesman couldn’t be reached for details.

But Furman said Lake Oswego, Ore.-based Greenbrier is "well positioned" to deal with the challenge, regardless of whether the ultimate solution is retrofit, new tank cars or both.

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