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Greenbrier cheers new rail car standards plan

Keywords: Tags  rail cars, tank cars, U.S. Department of Transporation, DOT, Greenbrier, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, PHMSA, Frank Haflich

LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has proposed new measures for moving oil and hazardous materials via rail, drawing an initial positive response from at least one rail car builder.

The agency is seeking comment on several alternate proposals, including some that would mandate the use of thicker plate for older, so-called DOT-111 tank cars. The proposed rules include three "enhanced tank car standards," the majority of which would consist of thicker tank plate than the traditional 7/16-inch plate.

The suggested new standards are being spurred by increased derailments and other accidents that have accompanied sharply higher North American drilling activity and the failure to build some proposed pipelines. Tank cars, which use an estimated 25 to 30 tons of steel, according to industry estimates, are considered one of the fastest growing segments of the rail car business due to growing energy-related requirements.

The agency’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has emphasized that it doesn’t intend to prolong the customary 60-day public comment period, "given the urgency of the safety issues addressed in these proposals," it said.

The new rules "will provide the clarity the industry needs to make investments that ensure that crude oil and other flammable commodities are classified properly and transported in tank cars that are safer at any speed," Greenbrier Cos. Inc. said.

The Lake Oswego, Ore.-based railroad equipment and services supplier said it is particularly "gratified" that two of the three alternative design standards proposed by the agency "call for 9/16-inch-thick steel shell."

Normalized plate has been used almost exclusively in recent years to build rail car tanks, according to industry sources.

Of the total 270,000 rail cars in operation in North America in 2013, 170,000 were in "hazardous" service, with 68,000 of these transporting crude oil and ethanol, Greenbrier noted in June (, June 5).

One industry estimate said that about 56,000 of these cars don’t meet the CPC 1232 standard of the Association of American Railroads for new tanks cars ordered after Oct. 1, 2011.

Other DOT proposals include a classification and testing program for mined gases and liquids, as well as new operational requirements for high-hazard flammable trains, which include braking controls and speed restrictions.

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