DOT rail safety discussion excluded tank car makers, group says

Posted by Curtis Tate on January 21, 2014 

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx presents a $10 million federal grant to the Port of Baltimore on Sept. 9, 2013.

CURTIS TATE

A group representing railroad tank car manufacturers said it was not invited to participate in a discussion last week with federal regulators, major railroads and petroleum producers, talks that could eventually lead to new construction standards for tank cars hauling hazardous materials.

The Railway Supply Institute's Tank Car Committee, in a letter sent Monday to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, asked for clarification of the Jan. 16 meeting, where it was told that the main focus would be changes to railroad operations and the labeling of hazardous goods.

But in a call with reporters after the meeting, Foxx and other DOT officials indicated that the group discussed a "comprehensive" approach to improving rail safety. The tank car group wanted to know whether tank car standards had, in fact, come up at the meeting it was not invited to attend.

"To exclude the actual manufacturers of tank cars and major lessors from this discussion," wrote Thomas Simpson, president of the Railway Supply Institute, "leaves out a vital player in the equation to speak for itself as we all strive to make our nation’s railroads safer."

Simpson's group represents companies that manufacture and lease tank cars to railroads, chemical manufacturers and energy producers. He said DOT had been slow to take action to address safety concerns about the DOT-111A, a common type of tank car that's widely used to haul crude oil and ethanol.

Tens of thousands of the cars, which have minimal crash protections, may have to be upgraded or phased out.

Simpson noted that tank car manufacturers had petitioned the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for new guidelines in March 2011. He added that tank car manufacturers had built new DOT-111A cars to a higher standard since October 2011.

DOT spokeswoman Meghan Keck said that the meeting was not specific to tank cars, and that companies that build and lease the cars would have ample opportunity to comment on improved standards for tank cars.

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