November 18, 2015 4:30 PM, EST

DOT Rejects Rail, Chemical Industry Bids to Change New Tank Car Rule

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News

The Department of Transportation turned down appeals to its final rule covering tank car safety from the railroad and chemical industries, which separately sought changes such as more flexibility in meeting the standards announced in May.

DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, announced its decision in the Federal Register. In addition to rejecting the Association of American Railroads and the American Chemistry Council, appeals by other groups such as the Dangerous Goods Advisory Council were turned down.

The rule was unveiled in a joint news conference with Canadian transport regulators. The rule was meant to reduce incidents and their consequences in light of multiple accidents in the United States and an explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July 2013. The rule regulated factors such as tank car design, speed and routing restrictions and braking systems, and routing.

AAR in a statement said it was “disappointed that PHMSA has denied the railroad industry’s appeal to strengthen” the tank car rule by using thermal blankets to smother a fire or explosion.

“The AAR is continuing to review the decision’s specifics and is still considering its options,” spokesman Ed Greenberg told Transport Topics.

The agency’s response to the railroads’ multiple protests focused on factors such as costs, the feasibility of doing retrofits and installation of electronically controlled pneumatic, or ECP, brakes.

For example, PHMSA said the railroads’ protest of a plan to allow the use of older tank cars known as DOT-111s for some service was made “because it would have been cost prohibitive” to bar the older cars altogether. The railroads sought to bar the older cars due to fears related to accidents and liability.

Like the railroads, the ACC said it was “disappointed” by the decision.

“The rule continues to create a great deal of uncertainty regarding the types of shipments that are covered by the rule and could create an unworkable timetable for upgrading tank cars,” the chemical group’s statement to TT said.

In response to the chemical industry trade group, PHMSA said its multiyear timetable for upgrading tank car safety features was reasonable.

The DOT agency said the timetables for upgraded tank car bodies and brakes were workable since there is ample capacity to make those improvements.

AAR contends that the safety ECP brakes is questionable since they haven’t been adequately tested.